Ann Morris, a prolific author of children’s books and a lifelong Upper West Sider profiled in the pages of this newspaper in 2013, passed away March 6. She was 84.
Morris is perhaps best known for the award-winning “Bread, Bread, Bread,” a paean to the universal dietary staple told from the perspective of several different cultures.
Her niece by marriage, Jane Asch, said Morris was a fiercely independent woman who lived by her own rules in a time when it was not fashionable to do so.
“She never married,” said Asch. “She was incredibly creative and talented. She really lived a life of her own choosing and was very ahead of her time.”
Besides Ash and her husband, Tony, of Warren, N.J., Morris is also survived by another nephew, Tom Ash, and his wife, Brenda, of Richmond, Va., and five great-nieces and nephews.
Morris lived her entire life on the Upper West Side but also traveled abroad for work, pleasure and social causes. When a devastating tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, killing over 200,000 people in the region, Morris, then in her seventies, traveled to the affected areas. She later wrote a children’s book explaining the disaster to young people.
“She had this gift to be able to deliver information on destruction and tragedy to children, she did it in a way that wasn’t devastating,” Asch said. “And she wrote about how people helped each other.”
When the Spirit visited her apartment on West End Avenue in the fall of 2013, Morris talked about the many artifacts and photographs that festooned the walls and shelves, testifying to a life that was fully lived.
“Everything in this house tells a story,” Morris she said then.
Woody Allen filmed portions of his 1992 movie “Husbands and Wives” in Morris’ apartment, which she had lived in for the past four decades. On one wall was an antique wheel of fortune that can be seen in the movie’s trailer. Morris liked to tell the story of what Allen said to her when she asked if he wanted a tour of the apartment. “He said, ‘No, I’ll just come in and free-associate,’” said Morris.
She was an editor for Scholastic books and traveled to Italy, Russia and Israel for the publishing house. An entire closet in her apartment was filled floor to ceiling with copies of her children’s books, which she would distribute around the neighborhood during her frequent walks.
In recent years, Morris spent time at the Jewish Community Center, a private library and the local YMCA, as well as at lunch dates and visits with friends.
A typical day for Morris, as described in the Spirit in 2013, went like this: In the mornings she woke at 5 a.m., had a bit of toast and then some fruit about an hour later, before reading The New York Times shortly after its delivery at 6:30 a.m. She ended her morning showers by standing under cold water, which invigorates her, she said. The rest of her day was spent with whatever she had scheduled. When the Spirit stopped by, she had planned to get lunch with the director of an organization that works for peace between Israel and Palestine, an issue she felt strongly about.
Asch said that at her funeral, Morris’ friend and fellow children’s author, Peter Linenthal, spoke of her gift to communicate with children. In a series Morris wrote about grandmothers explaining to their grandchildren what is was like growing up in their time, Linenthal said, “The series was a brilliant example of Ann’s innate sense of what children need and enjoy.”
Of the many legacies Morris leaves behind – that of a children’s book author, an Upper West Sider and a world traveler able to transcend cultures and languages – Asch said she’ll remember her aunt for the example she set for anyone who came into contact with her.
“She was a woman who was ahead of her time, she was fearless, she was courageous and she was creative,” said Asch. “She was an inspiration, certainly to us.”