Her essays challenge you to see–and so, to live
Hearing on Sunday of Judith Kitchen’s death, I felt a pang of loss. I’ve recently become a fan. Last June I read her Brevity essay “On the Farm,” a consideration of two archival photographs—a girl with chickens, a child with her father in a cornfield—and modeled an essay on it. And I read her celebrated essay “Blue,” a segmented lyric that moves from her father’s, mother’s, and brother’s blue eyes to her children’s to her high school geometry class. Then, in August, I read her essay collection that opens with “Blue,” Distance and Direction. It’s one of my top books of 2014.
Kitchen’s essays here verge on poetry. Moments from memory; how memory works. The world’s beauty. Her father’s image and his memory everywhere. And grief, loss, regret. Might you wish for more connective tissue? Maybe. Yet how neat to be given bright shards instead of always the mirror’s entire, dutiful brown frame too. Did Distance and Direction wholly achieve the author’s aim as art? Yes, surely. These essays make you want to be more alive yourself—to notice as much—and to write with such clarity and meaning.
I received an email this week with the sad news that Judith Kitchen has died. Her long fight with breast cancer is over. I met Judith in 2008 on the Bemidji Campus. She was teaching a five day Nonfiction Workshop and I was her student. Before the week began, Judith sent out an email.
The main focus will be on the personal—both the memoir and the personal essay. Our goal is open, honest discussion with a focus on new directions, and new techniques.
The workshop was fantastic. We explored the space between memory, photography, and time. We looked at photos and wrote.
Later, a strange thing occurred. I wrote a story called, “There’s Things,” about my Uncle Ray who was out rabbit hunting in the 1930s and got shot in the head. I’d heard that story all my life. After the story came out, I found a photo. So I wrote a blog post for Brevity called “A Reverse Kitchen,” about what happens when you’ve already written a story, and then afterwards, find a photo. I emailed Judith to tell her about the backwards happenings and sent her a link.
Sunday, May 31, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
Richard Hugo House
1634 11th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122
A chance for friends, former students, and other admirers to spend time together, remember Judith Kitchen and honor her work. In addition to a few planned remembrances by Stan Rubin, Stephen Corey, Kevin Clark, Peggy Shumaker, Dinah Lenney, Ann Pancake, Jennifer Culkin, Kelli Russell Agodon, Anne McDuffie, and Tina Schumann, there will be a chance for anybody who is so moved to speak briefly about Judith, read something of hers, or read something influenced by her.
Michael Steinberg, founding editor of the journal Fourth Genre and co-editor of the textbook/anthology of the same name, pays tribute to Creative Nonfiction pioneer Judith Kitchen on his blog this week. Steinberg acknowledges Kitchen for being “one of the first people who wrote, taught, and could speak with authority on/about what we’ve come to describe as ‘creative nonfiction’.” She certainly was, and Judith was among the most generous of literary figures as well.
She is greatly missed. Michael’s blog tribute, with excerpts from Kitchen’s essay “Mending Wall,” is well worth a read, including this gem of a paragraph, quoting Judith on the overuse of the term lyric essay:
“This past year, I attended a reading of “lyric essays,” and nothing I heard was, to my mind, lyric. My ears did not quicken. My heart did not skip. What I heard was philosophical meditation, truncated memoir, slipshod research, and just-plain-discursive opinion. A wall of words. But not a lyric essay among them. The term had been minted (brilliantly, it seems to me) by Deborah Tall, then almost immediately undermined. Not all essays are lyric. Repeat. Not all essays are lyric. Not even all short essays are lyric. Some are merely short. Or plainly truncated. Or purely meditative. Or simply speculative. Or. Or. Or. But not lyric. Because, to be lyric, there must be a lyre.”