Kelly Corrigan Spreads Words Coast to Coast

As Notes & Words approaches, the Piedmont fundraiser, podcaster, and New York Times best-selling author is learning how to say yes and no.


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Fundraiser, podcaster, and New York Times best-selling author Kelly Corrigan is more than comfortable in front of a microphone. But there are still phrases that trip her up.

Her new book, Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, presents tales of the everyday words, phrases, and sentences that mean so much in the essential dialogues of our lives, from teenage squabbles about who took whose clothes to meditations on the last days of Corrigan’s father’s life and the death of her best friend.

The Piedmont resident is saying “yes” to visiting UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland weekly to hold premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. To her husband, Edward Lichty, and their teenage daughters, Georgia and Claire, Corrigan is saying things like, “It’s like this,” “I don’t know,” and “I was wrong.” She’s saying “no” to organizing any charity events not connected with Notes & Words, the annual gala event that pairs authors and musicians onstage and last year raised $1.5 million for Children’s Hospital.

Notes & Words has its roots in a trip to the emergency room when Corrigan’s then-4-month-old Claire was successfully treated for meningitis.

Corrigan asked, “What if this set of experts across 60 sub-specialties wasn’t trained and ready when I walked in?”

“I really appreciated what they had done for us,” Corrigan said, “so I wanted to do something for them.”

The brainchild of Corrigan, UCSF Children’s Hospitals board member Melissa Williams, and parent Kristina Smith, Notes & Words is now in its ninth year. According to Corrigan, the event has produced some “pretty magical” collaborations like Chris Martin of Coldplay and students from Oakland School for the Arts performing “Purple Rain” a few weeks after Prince died. “They just brought down the house,” Corrigan said.

This year’s Notes & Words will be presented at Oakland’s Fox Theater on May 12. The event will be highlighted by performances by Corrigan, Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, Lincoln in the Bardo author George Saunders, the Oakland School for the Arts choir, and guitarist and singer/songwriter Emmett Reed, a senior at OSA.

“Even though there’s 2,000 people [at Notes & Words],” Corrigan said, “there’s an intimacy to the experience that I expect will continue this year.”

Called “the poet laureate of the ordinary” by HuffPost, Corrigan is the author of the best-sellers The Middle Place, Lift, and Glitter and Glue. The origins of Tell Me More lay in a conversation with her husband about the difference between “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.”

Corrigan said, “The thing that I was advocating for with ‘I was wrong’ was that it was so packed with humility that it just had a much bigger impact on a relationship, because it created space for both parties to be wrong every so often. It totally pops the Anger Balloon.”

As if she weren’t already sufficiently busy, Corrigan serves as creative director for the Nantucket Project, the September-in-New-England conversation series where influential presenters such as Norman Lear, Tony Blair, and Julie Taymor talk about issues that drive them and fuel their creativity. A year-round spinoff is The Neighborhood Project, where participants gather to watch and discuss short, exclusive “Ideafilms.”

A recent selection explored the results of Rwanda’s genocide trials, in which victims and perpetrators meet face to face.

“People in the Neighborhood Project circle talked in general about forgiveness in their own lives,” Corrigan said.

She travels one week a month for the project and realizes the time away from her daughters is “a real loss.”

Nevertheless, she continues to mine her life for material that can span the specific to the universal.

“I keep scanning my life for superlative moments,” Corrigan said. “Like when I was really angry or really moved by something or when I was really embarrassed. Those are my signposts.”

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