Fay Schopen, 1975-2023

Fay Schopen, a contributor and editor at Engelsberg Ideas, died on 19 November 2023 at the age of 48.

Fay Schopen, a contributor and editor at Engelsberg Ideas, died on Sunday 19 November 2023. She was 48.

Fay was an important part of the Engelsberg Ideas team from its earliest days, bringing her editing expertise and assured writing to the site. When the site was launched in 2020, during the pandemic, it benefited right away from her wise counsel and an incisive approach to editing copy honed over decades in journalism.

After graduating from the University of East Anglia in 1997 and, before becoming a journalist, she had worked in a series of office jobs in London, including at Citibank writing scripts to test the company’s readiness for Y2K.

But media was where she was meant to be. Initially Fay worked at the BBC, The Independent and for trade magazines, before moving to The Times, and studying at the Columbia Journalism School for a master’s degree with a specialism in science writing from 2007 to 2008.

Fay’s broad experiences and perceptive eye on culture made her an invaluable contributor to Engelsberg Ideas. ‘We live in an age of ceaseless worry’, she wrote in an article on the resonance of the 1990s, ‘it’s no wonder that there is a collective yearning for a simpler time, what media scholar Neil Ewan terms the “peaceful fin de siècle… an interregnum” between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and 9/11 in 2001.’

Fay’s dexterity as an editor was characteristic of her work in general. Deputy Editor Alastair Benn says: ‘So much of the vital development of Engelsberg Ideas depended on Fay’s keen judgement and professional application. She valued the power of the written word and displayed an unselfconscious mastery of its craft. I can’t count the times I passed on notes of gratitude and appreciation from our writers to Fay on account of her expert editing. There was no tricky corner in a text she couldn’t straighten out, no dull phrase she could not polish to perfection. Her legacy extends far beyond her perceptive, carefully constructed and beautifully written pieces.’

Fay excelled not only in deciphering the broader trajectories of the modern world but also in unearthing compelling stories on the most unconventional subjects. Whether exploring the insights cats offer to humanity, delving into the history of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, or celebrating the seemingly mundane yet essential aspects of the municipal swimming pool, Fay’s contributions to Engelsberg Ideas and beyond consistently showcased her expansive knowledge and steadfast enthusiasm for a diverse array of topics.

‘Fiercely independent, unique, and working on her own terms in her own way’, Fay observed about Kate Bush and her own attributes were mirrored in the writers and artists about whom she wrote. On Hilary Mantel she captured the qualities that ensured the author’s endurance after her death in September 2022: ‘Mantel’s sentences are so breathtakingly true; strange yet familiar; dark yet light; that the reader often has to put her books down to pause, drinking in the meaning of one passage, before embarking on the next. Mantel’s dry wit shines through everything she writes, popping up unexpectedly, mordantly, interwoven between hangings, guillotines, disasters, revolutions and more.’

Fay had an ability to convey aspects of her own life with honesty and poignancy, and she approached topics such as illness, loss, music, culture, and the esoteric with a sensitivity that resonated with readers. ‘For me, Kate Bush is, and always will be, the best, in any era, by any criteria’, she wrote of her heroine. ‘Thankfully music does many things: it makes us feel, it allows us to rise above the banal, the everyday… She will endure.’

Fay is survived by her husband Gabriel and her daughter Thea.


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