Monday, May 18, 2020

Where Writers Write: Juditha Dowd

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Juditha Dowd. 

In addition to Audubon's Sparrow: A Biograpy-in-PoemsJuditha Dowd is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Mango in Winter (Grayson Books, 2013), as well as short fiction, lyric essays, and three poetry chapbooks—The Weathermancer (Finishing Line, 2006), What Remains (Finishing Line, 2009), and Back Where We Belong (Casa de Cinco Hermanas, 2012). Her work appears in many journals and anthologies, including Poet Lore, Poetry Daily, The Florida Review, Spillway, Rock & Sling, Kestrel, and About Place. With the ensemble Cool Women she regularly performs poetry in the New York-Philadelphia metro area and occasionally on the west coast. Juditha currently lives in Easton, Pennsylvania with her husband and two cats, not far from where Lucy Bakewell began her long-ago adventure with John James Audubon. Visit her website at  

Where Juditha Dowd Writers

In a 1978 interview one of my favorite writers, Tillie Olsen (then sixty-five years old), talked about her final book, Silences, a meditation on the essential relationship between circumstance and creativity. By circumstance Olsen meant money, class, responsibilities, and time, but also space—creativity needs a place to flourish without interruption. In my twenties and thirties I didn’t have one. Like many women of my generation, I married young—in my case to a writer who was also a painter. The New York City railroad flat where we lived from 1964 through the late 1970s with our two young girls was barely big enough for our everyday needs. And though we were cash-strapped, I accepted my husband’s decision to rent himself a studio in another building, where he spent much of his free time. Meanwhile, I’d occasionally close the apartment’s bathroom door and sit on the edge of the tub with a notebook—desperately trying to capture a poem that was already escaping. Or I’d write into the night at our kitchen table, too tired by then to find the muse. It still surprises me that I once considered this disparity normal.

Fast forward several decades to the present, and the late-Victorian brick house where my second husband and I live in Easton, Pennsylvania. Here I work in a sunny alcove adjacent to my bedroom. It has everything I need and more: a door, a writing table, music, and books. I’m deeply grateful for it. Though I’ve had the good fortune to spend productive time at writers retreats, this room means the world to me. New surroundings can spark a wave of creativity, as can being in community with other artists. But I’ve found for me it’s familiar space, reliably mine, where the most work gets done.

By design, this little room doesn’t contain a guest bed or have any additional function, unlike the writing spaces I’ve carved out previously. The only visitors here are our two Maine Coon cats, who often sleep in a basket beside my writing table.

It’s a luxury to have a big bookcase so close at hand. There I keep whatever books I might be currently using for research, as well as the books I want to read soon and books I return to frequently for inspiration, information, and pleasure.

At one end of my writing room is a window with a view of our quiet street—something to stare at when my eyes need a break. I can tell the weather at a glance. Occasionally people walk by—our neighbor with his dog or children returning from school. My thoughts are free to ramble. In winter I share this window with a Meyer lemon tree that has wonderfully fragrant blossoms.

My mother was a woman of Olsen’s generation, whose life spanned almost the same years. Apparently she drew in her youth, but I only saw one picture—an illustration in her high school yearbook—a dark pine tree. When she took up painting in middle age, I had already left home and my brothers were teenagers. Talented, she studied with a local teacher for some time and finished a dozen or so paintings. But despite our praise, my mother didn’t hang those paintings in our house, or if she did it was only for a short while. I’m a perfectionist she’d say, as though that explained everything. She eventually put away her paints but her art remained a tender subject, something she was uncomfortable discussing. After my father died and she seemed at loose ends, I suggested she might want to take up painting again, but she firmly said no. That refusal and what may have been hiding behind it still makes me sad, and I wonder if I could have done more to encourage her. These days I keep my favorite of her pictures in front of me when I write. It reminds me how fragile the creative impulse can be. It reminds me to believe in myself, to persevere.

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