Maggie Estep, novelist and spoken word artist, dies at 50

Spoken word poet and novelist Maggie Estep in 1994.
(Bob Berg / Getty Images)

Maggie Estep, novelist and spoken word artist, has died at age 50, the New York Times reported. Estep, who published seven books after her start on stage, suffered a heart attack two days ago at her home in Hudson, N.Y., and died Wednesday at a hospital in Albany.

Estep was part of a generation of spoken word artists who had a surprisingly wide cultural impact. She appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” (an online clip includes explicit language) and MTV, and was a star of MTV’s 1994 spoken word tour. She performed onstage sharing bills with Henry Rollins, John S. Hall and Jim Carroll.

In her early work, Estep was a downtown New York girl, tough talking, sassy and drawlingly sardonic while being sexually explicit and joking, inverting expectations.


“It was a fluke,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I was writing and someone dragged me to an open-mike situation. I read and did really well. I seemed to have an immediate affinity to do it. That’s sort of how my performance style developed. I was so scared. I was very introverted, very shy. I got so nervous, I’d just rush through things and just pace. It evolved into my signature.”

Estep published her first book, “Diary of an Emotional Idiot,” in 1997. The novel was like an underground “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” with dominatrixes and drug dealers instead of publishers and television executives. Her crime novel trilogy -- “Hex” (2003), “Gargantuan” (2004) and “Flamethrower” (2010) -- saw a Coney Island museum staffer become an unwilling detective drawn into the world of horse racing.

In the biography on her website, Estep wrote that she was the daughter of horse trainers and had grown up moving around the U.S. and France. She attended the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colo., and received a bachelor of arts in literature from the State University of New York.

Her work was anthologized in “The Best American Erotica,” “Brooklyn Noir 2,” “Hard Boiled Brooklyn” and “Goodbye to All That,” the last a collection of essays about moving away from New York City. In recent years, Estep had been living in upstate New York.

In January she wrote on her website about the death of a friend. “My first reaction was total disbelief. He couldn’t possibly be dead. He wasn’t old. He was full of life.”

That has been the reaction to her death as well. Neal Pollack tweeted, “RIP Maggie Estep, a brilliantly talented novelist, devoted yogi, and genuine Gen-X counterculture hero. I can’t believe it.”

Carolyn Kellogg: Join me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+


Pulitzer-winning poet Maxine Kumin dies at 88

Remembering poet Wanda Coleman, a force of nature

Emily Dickinson’s ‘Gorgeous Nothings’ shows the poet’s hand