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The Bright Hour

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

Nina Riggs

In 2015 poet and writer Nina Riggs was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it metastasised later that year. She was thirty-eight years old, married to the love of her life and the mother of two small boys; her mother had died only a few months earlier from multiple myeloma.
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying is Nina’s intimate, unflinching account of ‘living with death in the room’. She tells her story in a series of absurd, poignant and often hilarious vignettes drawn froma life that has ‘no real future or arc left to it, yet still goes on as if it does’.
This unforgettable memoir leads the reader into the innermost chambers of the writer’s life: into the mind and heart, the work and home and family, of a young woman alternately seeking to make peace with and raging against the reality of her approaching death.

Click here for a sample chapter of The Bright Hour

Nina Riggs talks about The Bright Hour


Bestselling authors, survivors, and friends share their thoughts on why THE BRIGHT HOUR means so much to them.


Katie Couric interview with Nina Riggs’ husband, John Duberstein 
Listen to an interview on Chicago NPR’s The State of Things with Nina Riggs’ husband, John Duberstein
Washington Post interview with Nina Riggs
Wall Street Journal review
Boston Globe review 
Frankie review 
News & Observer review
Sydney Morning Herald review
AU Review

Click here for a short pice that Nina’s husband, John Duberstein, wrote for Cup of Joe about bonding with his father-in-law through grief.

Listen to Kate Winslet read  ‘When a Couch Is More Than a Couch’ on the New York Times’s Modern Love podcast

Nina Riggs
About the Author

Nina Riggs received her MFA in poetry in 2004 and published a book of poems, Lucky, Lucky, in 2009. She wrote about life with metastatic breast cancer on her blog, Suspicious Country; her recent work appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times. She lived with her husband and sons and dogs in Greensboro, North Carolina.


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Text publication date:
19 June 2017
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Praise for Nina Riggs
andThe Bright Hour

“Stunning…heartrending…this year’s When Breath Becomes Air.”

‘Gorgeous and brave, Nina Riggs’s memoir explodes with life and insight even amid ruin—with lines so poetic they knocked the wind out of me. It’s heartbreaking, funny, clear-eyed, and entirely devoid of cliché. This book is her hard-won treasure, and ours.’

“Beautiful and haunting.”

‘How a woman can have this much emotional clarity and narrative power while fighting for her life should astonish every last one of us. Magical. Unforgettable.’

‘Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Profound, absorbing, and often even funny, Nina Riggs’s memoir of living and dying is a meditation on life, family, and how to cram every day of our existence with what we love—no matter how much time we have left. Brilliant and illuminating.’

‘Nina Riggs writes gorgeously and with astonishing clarity about her own terminal illness, about losing her mother, about her marriage and her children, about books that have guided her, and also about the often comical challenges of daily life as a busy parent. Riggs never shies away from describing the terrible sadness and messiness of her own dying, but also manages to suffuse this book with a miraculous blend of light and joy. This is an emotional journey told with raw honesty and also a sly sense of humour. The Bright Hour is an instant classic that deserves to be read by everyone who loved When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Being Mortal by Atul Guwande. Like those, here is a book about dying that has powerful lessons for everyone about how to live.’

‘A luminous, heartbreaking symphony of wit, wisdom, pain, parenting and perseverance against insurmountable odds.’

‘Riggs reminds us that we are all in this world until we leave it; the gallows humor surrounding her mother’s funeral will make readers howl guiltily but appreciatively. Whether confronting disease or not, everyone should read this beautifully crafted book as it imbues life and loved ones with a particularly transcendent glow.’

“Deeply affecting…simultaneously heartbreaking and funny.”

“Vivid, immediate.”

‘How a woman can have this much emotional clarity and narrative power while fighting for her life should astonish every last one of us. Magical. Unforgettable.’

‘Cancer might have taken Nina Riggs’s life, but it never once vanquished her: in this brave and beautiful book she lives on. Knowing that she died not long after completing it is such a wrench to the heart—yet what an amazing gift she has left behind for her readers.’

‘Nina Riggs could have written a memoir about dying. Instead, she has given us a book exploding with life. Every page of The Bright Hour (“bright” the operative word here) is filled with the mysterious, messy, funny, heartbreaking stuff that only happens in the most loving of families. Clearly, hers is one. Writing with frank and exquisite honesty and a striking absence of sentimentality or self-pity in the final days of a terminal struggle, she explores everything from her children’s choice of Halloween costumes and her own, of a new sofa, to the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Montaigne. Though no doubt challenged by constant physical depletion and grief—a fact of her illness she chooses not to dwell on—Riggs emerges as a character whose ultimate victory will not take the form of beating cancer, but of refusing to allow cancer to destroy her life-embracing spirit. As she allows us into her world of wig shopping and heart to heart conversations with her boys, it becomes impossible not to love this woman (also her quirky, tenderly rendered sons, and her quietly suffering husband, whose future remarriage she allows herself to envision). The tragedy of Riggs’s illness and impending death hangs over every page, but in the end, this is a book not about crushing loss but about the richness of love and its power to uplift and sustain us. What a gift she has given to her family, and to any reader of this beautiful book.’

‘A thoughtful and heartbreaking exploration of what makes life meaningful in a person’s remaining days…Buried within this agonizing tale are moments of levity—I laughed out loud many, many times—and flashes of poetry…A book every doctor and patient should read.’

‘With The Bright Hour, Riggs leaves behind a literary legacy that captures both her incredible talent and her unwavering love for her family…Her lyrical, honest prose immerses the reader in her world; you feel the fear, the despair, the joy…But though one might expect a tome of sadness and despair from a writer with only months left to live, Riggs fills her memoir with vivid, messy, beautiful life.’

Starred reviews from * Kirkus Reviews * Publishers Weekly * Library Journal *

Most Anticipated Summer Reading Selection by *The Washington Post * Glamour * The Seattle Times * * * * Real Simple * The Atlanta Journal-Constitution *

‘A moving reminder of the precious gift of life.’ 

‘The Bright Hour is, as the subtitle indicates, an account of life and death, but it’s the living that shines, in this gloriously irreverent, sometimes objective account of the author’s terminal cancer.’ 

‘[A] deeply moving (and often funny) memoir.’ 

‘In this tender memoir Riggs displays a keen awareness of and reverence for all the moments of life—both the light, and the dark, “the cruel, and the beautiful”.’

‘Profound and poignant…I put down The Bright Hour a slightly different, and better, person––unbearably sad and also feeling, as Riggs did, “the hug of the world”.’

‘This gorgeous chronicle of the last year of her life––brimming with seemingly mundane details about parenting, buying a couch, getting a puppy––is a gentle reminder to cherish each day.’

‘Touching and wickedly funny.’

‘Moving and often very funny…You can read a multitude of books about how to die, but Riggs, a dying woman, will show you how to live.’

‘The antithesis of grim: an irreverent and poignant Baedeker through the country of illness.’

‘Her observations about cancer are frank and unsentimental [but] they are also tart and hilarious…Like the bestselling When Breath Becomes Air, the work she left behind is a beautiful testament to the quiet magic of everyday life and making the most of the time we are given, whether it’s spent taking last-minute trips to Paris, wallpapering the mudroom, or reveling in a newly purchased couch.’

‘As a poet she composed The Bright Hour with delicacy, love of language, full awareness, and a realism that almost hurts to read and absorb…A family history, a personal memoir, and a roadmap for others to follow, The Bright Hour is a story to embrace, learn from and recommend to good friends.’

‘This is one of those confusing books that will have you teary while also snorting with laughter. Basically, you will need tissues…The Bright Hour is filled with wonderful wit and irreverence in the face of death, making it truly memorable.’

‘While the looming presence of impending death is ubiquitous throughout the book, it’s also a work teeming with limitless love, humour and perseverance…It’s a truly inspiring and—in the end—uplifting memoir; the kind of work that makes you want to take a step back and get a better look at your life to remind yourself what really matters.’

‘There is an inevitable rolling sadness throughout the memoir–but it is never depressing because, although [Riggs’s] body is succumbing to the condition, her mind is sharp and alert: a creative, imaginative intelligence.’

‘Deeply affecting…A simultaneously heartbreaking and funny account of living with loss and the spectre of death. As she lyrically, unflinchingly details her reality, she finds beauty and truth that comfort even amid the crushing sadness.’

‘The Bright Hour is Nina Riggs’ magnum opus and it’s a great legacy. This memoir is an absolute gem which will offer great relief and comfort for people finding themselves facing similar circumstances either in their own illness or through their loved ones. For the other readers this work is a poignant and stirring reminder of how to live life to the full and to appreciate the things you love, and to accept the things that you cannot change. It’s so incredibly heart-breaking and gorgeous. Thank you Nina.’ 

‘Warm, elegant and, above all, encouraging.’

‘Riggs brings a poet’s eye for detail to her story.’

‘Warm, honest and insightful.’

‘There’s plenty of life lessons and beautiful lines you’ll want to circle and then send to your mates.’

‘Deeply moving…It will likely make you tear up, for the children and husband she left behind, and the way in which she graciously shares the last moments of her life. It will also remind you to live in the present moment, taking in everything – big or small – and encourage you to fill your days with what, and who, you love.’

‘Equally heartbreaking and hilarious…The Bright Hour is difficult to read, but more difficult to put down. It made me laugh and cry simultaneously, and I can’t recall the last book that did that to me…Easily one of the best I have read this year.’

The Bright Hour is clearly a project that helped Riggs accept her fate, and we as readers are given a glimpse into that very earnest, beautiful, and sad conclusion. This is not a happy book. But it’s an important one that will make you take a step back and reflect on your own life in a way you normally don’t have time to do.’

‘This haunting memoir leads the reader into the innermost chambers of the writer’s life: into the mind and heart, the work and home and family of a young woman alternately seeking to make peace with, and raging against, the reality of her approaching death. While sadness is inevitable, this is not a discouraging chronicle. As the body succumbs to the ailment, the mind is sharp and vigilant: an inspired, creative intelligence…Her criterions are many, from Montaigne to Stevie Wonder, but at the core of her meditations is the thirst for life, its meaning and an unbelievable blend of light and joy.’

‘Often funny and absurd, The Bright Hour is about sitting with your own mortality, and the idea of your life coming to an end always being in the room with you…Nina reminds us not to waste time under the covers and instead get out there and make the most of it.’

Other editions ofThe Bright Hour
  • The Bright Hour
    ISBN: 9781925410730
    19 June 2017
    Buy ebook