After a Stroke, Marianne Wiggins Finishes Novel with Her Daughter’s Help: ‘Miracles Do Happen’ (Exclusive)

In 2016, the famous writer Marianne Wiggins suffered a massive stroke that took away her memory and left her unable to see or walk. In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Wiggins and her daughter, Lara Porzak, share the story of Wiggins’ hard-fought recovery and their journey together to complete the final three chapters of her latest bestseller, Properties of thirst.

“I hesitate not to betray my gratitude. I’m trying to find big enough words,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wiggins, crossing her arms over her heart as she stares at her daughter.

“You always tell me that I am your person,” adds Porzak, wiping a tear from his mother’s cheek. “No, it’s more than that,” Wiggins insists. “You are mine family.”

It’s hard to believe that seven years ago, Wiggins and Porzak barely spoke. “Her books were always her most important connections,” says Porzak, who is Wiggins’ only child with her first husband, Brian Porzak. (She divorced her second husband, Salman Rushdie, in 1993.)

That all changed in 2016, after Wiggins, now 75, suffered a massive stroke that robbed her of her memory, when she was just three chapters short of completing her 11th book.

With Porzak’s help, Wiggins completed a bestseller that just came out in paperback. “Sometimes mother-daughter relationships are strained, especially if you put two artists together,” says Porzak, 56, an art photographer. “But what we share is the belief that art can heal; sentence by sentence, word by word, beat by beat.”

Marianne, Lara and their first dog, Mugs, in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, 1979.

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Alison Shaw

Porzak was working on a photo shoot in San Francisco in June 2016 when she got the call that Wiggins had suffered a stroke during a routine stent insertion after a small heart attack. “It was the worst phone call I’ve ever received,” says Porzak, who was rushed to Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, where tests revealed Wiggins had suffered significant brain damage — leaving her unable to see, write or walk.

Porzaka’s faith in her mother grew stronger three days after the stroke. “She was still in a coma, she raised her hand in the air and started moving as if she was writing. It was still in her to be a writer because she is,” says Porzak, who spent hours at her mother’s bedside reading her unfinished novel to Wiggins. “I read it to her all day and I realized, ‘Oh my God, this book is incredible. We have to finish it.’ “

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In October 2016, after several long stints in rehab, Wiggins moved into the Porzak apartment in Venice, California, where they spent three years focusing on her recovery — including daily physical therapy to relearn everything from brushing her teeth to wheelchair management.

After a stroke, Marianne Wiggins writes a book with the help of her daughter Lara Porzak

Wiggins and Porzak work together on a novel, LA, 2021.

Laura Porzak

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Eventually, in 2019, they began work on the final three chapters of Wiggins’ book — with Porzak sorting through her mother’s notes and past projects and digging up phrases and sentences that she then “stitched and stitched together.”

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“Marianne would use the sentences I wrote, and then we’d spend three days trying to come up with them [one] adjective,” says Porzak.

It took three years of love, dedication — and “a lot of swearing,” Porzak jokes — to finish the book. “It feels amazing,” says Wiggins, who still has daily PT sessions and struggles with memory problems.

None of that stopped her from attending book signings and readings in multiple states. “Meeting my many readers was an unexpected adrenaline rush,” says Wiggins, who plans to write her next book herself. “I believe in the power of the written word.”

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After a stroke, Marianne Wiggins writes a book with the help of her daughter Lara Porzak

Wiggins holds up his newly published book, 2022.

Lara Porzak

Porzak, who hopes to start focusing more on her photography, says, “I think this experience taught my mom what family can be.”

“[It] taught me to appreciate the other,” says Wiggins as he takes his daughter’s hand.

Porzak smiles and snuggles closer to his mom. “When you spend this much time with someone, there has to be love and respect,” she says, winking at her mom. “Respect, we’re working on it. But love, we’ve got it. This has brought us as close as we could be.”

For more on Marianne Wiggins and Lara Porzak, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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