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Lynch, Thomas 1948–

Lynch, Thomas 1948–

(Thomas Patrick Lynch)


Born October 16, 1948, in Detroit, MI; married Mary Tata (a visual artist and sculptor); children: Heather, Tom, Michael, Sean. Education: Wayne State University, certification in mortuary science.


Home—Milford, MI, and West Clare, Ireland. Office—Lynch and Sons, 404 E. Liberty, Milford, MI 48381. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Writer, novelist, poet, educator, commentator, broadcaster, lecturer, and funeral director. University of Michigan, adjunct professor in the graduate creative writing program. Lynch and Sons (funeral home), Milford, MI, funeral director. Commentator on radio and television networks, including BBC Radio, RTE (Ireland), C-SPAN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio (NPR). Lecturer at universities in Europe, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.


American Book Award, 1998, National Book Award finalist, and Heartland Prize for nonfiction, all for The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade; Great Lakes Book Award, for Bodies in Motion and at Rest; recipient of grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Council for the Arts, the Michigan Library Association, the Writers Voice Project, the National Book Foundation, the Arvon Foundation (England), and the Irish Arts Council.


Skating with Heather Grace (poetry), Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Grimalkin and Other Poems, J. Cape (London, England), 1994.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (essays), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.

Still Life in Milford (poetry), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1998.

Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality (essays), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New Yorker, Poetry, Harper's Esquire, Newsweek, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Irish Times, Times (London, England), and the Paris Review.

Author's works have been translated into seven languages.


Essayist, poet, and funeral director Thomas Lynch has written three critically acclaimed volumes of poetry and two award-winning volumes of essays. By using his own daily routine as poetic fodder, Lynch has transformed the mundane task of preparing the dead into a life-affirming event. His lyrical, elegiac poems describe the dead citizens of Milford, Michigan, his own family relationships, and scenes and myths from his Irish Catholic upbringing. In a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly Web site interview with Bob Abernathy, Lynch noted the conflicted approach most people have to funeral directors. "People need us, but they don't necessarily want to need us," he mused. "The tuition is a high one. It's a little bit, I suppose, like the oncologist; or the lawyer when you're in trouble; or the clergy when you're vexed by your conscience. You need them, but you don't want to need them. In one sense, people are grateful to us. But they're not grateful for the circumstance that brings them to us." In the end, Lynch told Abernathy, "We serve the living by caring for the dead. We measure how well we do each."

Skating with Heather Grace, Lynch's first collection, contains forty-two poems that feature scenes from his everyday life. In these works his wife, dog, children, and work all make appearances. Some of the poems are set in Michigan, while others use Ireland or Italy as a backdrop. The title poem is a "tender meditation" about Lynch's daughter, according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Library Journal reviewer Rosaly DeMaios Roffman found that the poems "unpretentiously rehearse the dreams of the dying as they celebrate the everchanging relationships of the living." Lynch, according to Roffman, crafts poems that weave symbolism and mythology into the human experience. Of particular merit are the poems about Argyle, the mythical Sin-Eater who tends to the souls of the dead, Roffman suggested.

Lynch's second volume, Grimalkin and Other Poems, likewise contains elements of the poet's professional and personal life mixed with his ruminations about Irish culture and history. One can hear echoes of the Catholic liturgy, the church choir, and the "voices of lament in his ancestral County Clare, and all of the sacred mysteries for him were translated early into women's flesh," noted Agenda critic Alan Wall. In a "strong" and "elegiac" poetic voice, according to Wall, Lynch buries the dead and other things, such as a marriage, old loves, and the sexual ghosts of his childhood, with equal panache.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade is a collection of twelve essays that reflect the author's "eloquent, meditative observations on the place of death in small-town life," according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Lynch's poetic vision is indelibly colored by his undertaking business, and what he sees often contrasts with what lies on the surface. While his wife admires the architectural styles of buildings they encounter on an evening stroll, he sees a couple, wonderful dancers both, dead from asphyxiation in the garage. From the embalming of his own father to the opening of the newly refurbished bridge to the Milford cemetery, Lynch writes about death "with dignity and passion," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, resulting in "a superb collection of essays." London Observer reviewer Matthew Sweeney admired the "balance and clarity" of Lynch's writing, which occupies different emotional registers, "moving from the humorous to the tender to the stern." Dispelling the myths about people in his trade, Lynch wrote, "I am no more attracted to the dead than the dentist is to your bad gums, the doctor to your rotten innards, or the accountant to your sloppy expense records." His profession has provided Lynch not only with a living, but with a unique vantage point from which to observe the entire cycle of life. Washington Post reviewer Jonathan Yardley observed that "there can be no question that what Lynch has learned about life and death in that day job deeply informs and enriches his writing.

Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality is a collection of essays described by New York Times Book Review contributor Sherie Posesorski as an "engaging hybrid of memoir, meditation, and comic monologue…. Lynch approaches his subjects with a beautifully executed balance of irreverence with reverence, gallows humor with emotional delicacy, and nononsense immanence with lyrical transcendence." Lynch writes of his Roman Catholic childhood, his family, being a father, and the relationship between "mortuary and literary arts."

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in Christian Century that "hailed as ‘a cross between Garrison Keillor and William Butler Yeats,’ Lynch is living proof of his thesis that familiarity with the facts of death improves one's capacity for the wonders of life…. The essays in this book contain wrenching accounts of his and his son's battles with addiction as well as luminous tales of love between husband, wife, parent, and child." Taylor remarked that readers "may expect a poet's eye for image and a poet's ear for language, as well as a poet's ability to hold open the door to meaning without shoving anyone through."

In his essay collection Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, Lynch reflects deeply on his Irish heritage and on his lifelong quest to understand and appreciate both his family's origins in Ireland and his life in America. Over the course of three decades, Lynch has made repeated trips between his home in Michigan and an ancestral cottage he inherited in Moveen, County Clare, in the west of Ireland. He first went there in 1970, as a twenty-one-year-old student, where he met Tommy and Nora, two unmarried cousins who had gained almost iconic status in his family history, and who were his only remaining relatives native to Ireland. Regular trips to Ireland strengthened the family ties between distant relatives. When Nora died, he inherited the family cottage, which he has used as both residence and retreat for himself and other writers. Within his book, Lynch tells the story of his family's difficult life in Ireland and America. He recounts his attempts to modernize his cottage with the simplest of conveniences, such as running water and electricity. He examines his Catholic religion and the place of the Church in modern Ireland, and sharply criticizes the Catholic Church for the molestation and abuse scandals that marred its reputation and disrupted its mission. Lynch also considers his own life and personal difficulties and triumphs, including a struggle against alcoholism, marriage woes, and the unique characteristics of his profession. A Publishers Weekly contributor named the work a "deeply thought-out book filled with poetry, pathos, triumph and lots of Irish laughter."

Commenting on Lynch's quest to involve himself in his Irish ancestry, Guardian reviewer Lionel Shriver observed that "as a fine stylist, Thomas Lynch rises head and shoulders above the bog of other Irish-Americans who adopt Ireland as a second home and then, with much time on their hands in lousy weather, get fired up to write about it." Lynch's "book is full of incident, touching and hilarious, and repays serious attention," commented Seattle Times reviewer Clarence Brown. "It also repays frivolous attention," Brown continued. "It is a good read even for those who have not the least ancestral or national bias—for those who desire civilized entertainment along with brilliant narrative."



Lynch, Thomas, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.


Agenda, autumn, 1994, Alan Wall, review of Grimalkin and Other Poems, p. 241.

Bomb, summer, 2000, Glenn Moomau, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality, p. 21.

Booklist, August, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 1954; June 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. 1803.

Christian Century, November 18, 1998, review of The Undertaking, p. 1119; November 22, 2000, Barbara Brown Taylor, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. 1216.

Commonweal, June 19, 1998, Frank McConnell, review of The Undertaking, p. 20.

Georgia Review, fall, 2002, Sanford Pinsker, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, pp. 854-862.

Guardian (London, England), August 21, 2005, Stephanie Merritt, "Home Thoughts from Detroit," review of Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans; November 5, 2005, Lionel Shriver, "An Irish Rag-Bag," review of Booking Passage.

Hudson Review, summer, 1999, Thomas M. Disch, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 315.

Inc., July, 1998, review of The Undertaking, p. 11.

Insight on the News, July 17, 2000, Stephen Goode, "Lynch Writes from Unique Background," p. 36.

Kiplinger's Personal Finance, February, 2002, Kristin Davis, "Six Feet Under: Thomas Lynch Has Buried 6,000 of His Neighbors; He Talks about the Business of Death," p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, review of The Undertaking, p. 699.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 21, 2000, Marta Salij, "Thomas Lynch: Poet in Motion," p. K2676.

Library Journal, March 1, 1987, Rosaly DeMaios Roffman, review of Skating with Heather Grace, p. 79; September 15, 1998, Barbara Hoffert, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 83.

New York Review of Books, September 24, 1998, A. Alvarez, review of The Undertaking, p. 24.

New York Times, May 31, 2000, Richard Bernstein, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. E8; June 8, 2000, Dinitia Smith, "Matters of Life and Death: A Prizewinning Writer Holds onto His Day Job as a Funeral Director," p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, September 24, 2000, Sherie Posesorski, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. 23.

Observer (London, England), April 6, 1997, Matthew Sweeney, review of The Undertaking, p. 17.

Poetry, December, 1998, John Taylor, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 184.

Publishers Weekly, December 26, 1986, review of Skating with Heather Grace, p. 54; May 5, 1997, review of The Undertaking, p. 184; June 29, 1998, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 53; May 23, 2005, review of Booking Passage, p. 74.

Quadrant, March, 1998, Iain Bamforth, review of The Undertaking, p. 81.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2006, review of Booking Passage.

Seattle Times, August 5, 2005, Clarence Brown, review of Booking Passage.

Spectator, July 15, 2000, Harry Mount, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. 34.

Times Literary Supplement, September 25, 1998, David Wheatley, review of Still Life in Milford, p. 24; July 14, 2000, David Wheatley, review of Bodies in Motion and at Rest, p. 27.

U.S. Catholic, November, 2002, "What Makes a Good Funeral? The Editors Interview Thomas Lynch," p. 12.

Washington Post, August 2, 2005, Jonathan Yardley, "At Home Abroad: Irish in America," review of Booking Passage, p. C09.

Wilson Quarterly, autumn, 2005, Terence Winch, review of Booking Passage, p. 117.


Emigrant Online, (March 17, 2008), review of Booking Passage.

Irish Echo Online, (March 17, 2008), Peter McDermott, "From Milford to Moveen," profile of Thomas Lynch.

Norton Poets Online, (March 17, 2008), biography of Thomas Lynch.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, (May 4, 2007), Bob Abernathy, interview with Thomas Lynch.

Thomas Lynch Home Page, (March 17, 2008).

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