We wrote a traditional obituary, but realized Leah would hate it. So we wrote a funny obit to better express who Leah was.

Leah Ryan, playwright, author, teacher, gourmet cook, and noted cat butler, died of leukemia on June 12th in New York City. She had initially planned to die of emphysema in Paris, but was unable to secure funding. She was 44.

Born in Greenfield, MA on March 15, 1964, Ms. Ryan spent her early years hanging out with bad kids, smoking cigarettes, and questioning reality, then attended Holyoke Community College before it was cool. In addition to being a tableware sanitation engineer, Ms. Ryan also worked as a short order cook, nose–ring salesperson, angst–ridden telemarketer, and sandblaster.

She graduated with honors from Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar, winning the Denis Johnston prize for excellence in playwriting three times and the Jill Cummins MacLean Prize once. Ms. Ryan then earned her Artist Diploma in Playwriting at Julliard and her MFA from the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she won the Distinguished Teaching award and was twice chosen to take part in the annual Iowa Playwrights Festival.

Ms. Ryan's plays are performed all over the United States, often by actors. Her conquests include the 21st Century Playwrights Festival at Theatre Row Theatre, the Chekhov Now Festival, The LITE Company, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, La Mama, the Turnip Theatre, Highwire Theater, Trapdoor Theatre, Penumbra Theater, New World Theater at UMass, and PlayLabs (at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis). She collaborated with the creators of Just Say Blow Me, Birth of aNasian, Kate's ChinkORama, and a piece for Brave New World: American Theater Responds to 9/11, at Town Hall in New York City, titled Special Price for You, Okay? Ms. Ryan's work has been commissioned by several theatres, including Gorilla Rep, The Acting Company, Epic Theatre Center, and Echo Theatre of Los Angeles.

Ms. Ryan's play Bleach, a dark comedy about the legacy of the Armenian genocide, received the Maibaum Award for plays dealing with issues of social justice, even though it was funny. Her family comedy Raised By Lesbians has been produced all over the US, including the upcoming performance at The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). In 2005, she was chosen as a resident artist at the Hall Farm center for Arts and Education in Vermont. She was a member of the Dramatists Guild, but refused to master the secret handshake.

She wrote scripts for the PBS children's show Arthur, including a version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, and an episode about cancer co–sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Ms. Ryan taught playwriting, English, and creative writing to a wide variety of students, including at The Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, where she was a professor in the Arts and Communications department and founder of their Writing Center. She also taught at SUNY Old Westbury, The University of Iowa, Fordham University, Hampshire College, Smith College, Holyoke Community College, the College of New Rochelle in the South Bronx, Riverdale Country School, and at elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the New York City public school system.

Ms. Ryan worked with groups of high school and college students at Vassar College and at New York Stage and Film's Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Training Program on productions of adaptations of the Chekhov plays The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. The Apprentice Company also performed her adaptation of The Oresteia, and will perform her adaptation of Gogol's The Overcoat this summer. She received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts for her work with Epic Theatre Center, creating modern adaptations of classic plays with groups of middle and high school students.

Her publications include the literary anthology For Here or To Go (Garrett County Press), which shamelessly exploited her years of shameless exploitation by the service industry; work in the anthologies Through the Kitchen Window, Even More Monologues By Women For Women, and The Best of Temp Slave, as well as in many small magazines. Her play Pigeon was published by Playscripts, Inc. Her short work appeared in 400Words, including the debut issue, and she was Fiction Editor and a regular columnist at Punk Planet magazine. She also wrote copy for post–modern greeting cards—the ones that are so cool you buy them without any idea why or for whom; and she reviewed books for The New York Post without once uttering the phrase "book reviews for non–readers." She was working on a novel, The Other One, when she died.

Ms. Ryan is mourned by her mothers Arlene Avakian and Martha Ayres, and by her cousins, friends, actors, students, writers, and work associates. When she was dying we were not all that surprised to hear laughter coming from her room when people came to say goodbye. We will sorely miss Leah Ryan's remarkable talents, her kind, generous heart, and her acerbic wit.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Leah Ryan Emerging Writers Fund, c/o Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College, Box 225, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604.

Moira Gentry, July 8, 2008