Frozen Moments with Ed Koren

Here’s a last burst of wind in our sails, a last gentle guffaw, from a listener we came to adore: the cartoonist Ed Koren. You knew Ed Koren, too, for those furry, quizzical characters he drew and captioned—portraits of our general bemusement—through a 60-year run in The New Yorker magazine. His studio, it turned out, was in rural Vermont, where he’d gotten hooked on our public radio shows. Finally, just a few years ago, we met the sheer joy of that man, face to face.

Chris Lydon with Ed Koren in Vermont, November 2021.

Ed Koren knew that “the laws of entropy,” as he put it in conversation, were not in his favor. But he did not believe in dying, and in his case, I don’t either. Most of a year ago, in the late stages of treatment for inoperable lung cancer, he told me he’d withdrawn from hospice care because hospice framed its mission around death, and his passion, as he said, was life and living. What I heard was not the sound of denial, or evasion of anything. I felt him embracing a truth that I’d felt from the start of a precious friendship: Ed Koren stood for the elusive strands of humanity that do not die. The wonder of our connection has been discovering, oddly enough, that we could talk about such things. And so we did, producer Mary McGrath and I, visiting Ed and his wife Curtis, late in March, up in Mary’s ski country. As we entered his studio this time he was absorbed in reading a New Yorker profile of the godfather of modern graphic design, Milton Glaser.

Ed Koren’s hairy creatures.

Scenes from Ed Koren’s studio last month. In the center: Ed with Mary McGrath.

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Ed Koren
New Yorker cartoonist.

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