Last night we celebrated the publication of our 17th issue of Water~Stone Review. It was a happy, festive evening. Patricia Francisco, Creative Nonfiction Editor, noted the winner of the 2014 Judith Kitchen Creative Nonfiction Prize judged by Brenda Miller, “Rainier Valley Notebook” by Jennie Goode, and the Honorable Mention, “A Striking Resemblance” by Chelsey Clammer. Patricia, and the members of the CNF editorial board, were thrilled to publish both pieces.
This morning I woke to the news that Judith Kitchen died on Thursday, at home with her husband, Stan Sanvel Rubin. She had lived with cancer for many years. Beyond the personal sadness I feel for the loss of this beautiful, fierce, talented soul, and my sympathy for Stan, is the sense of loss for our literary community.
Judith was a force of nature. A master teacher—generous and smart and deeply devoted to her students and to writers she believed in; a passionate advocate of literature; a visionary; an optimist; an astute, rigorous, and constructive critic; a writer with extraordinary gifts.
I first met her an AWP Conference some sixteen years ago, walking up to her in the Bookfair and saying in a rush how much I admired her writing and the poetry reviews she wrote regularly for The Georgia Review and would she consider writing reviews for our fledgling magazine, Water~Stone Review. Oh, and I couldn’t pay her. She looked over the review, asked me a few questions, then said, “I’ll do it if I can choose the books. And I don’t want to do poetry. You should ask Stan Rubin to do that. I’d like to do creative nonfiction.”
We talked logistics and she was gone, writers trailing after her. Thus began a long and fruitful relationship between Judith Kitchen, Stan Rubin, andWater~Stone Review. Each year I’d wait, like a child on Christmas morning, for her review, and Stan’s (“Has he sent it yet? I’ll get after him”), to arrive. As Judith’s health failed, she withdrew from doing reviews for us, saying she needed to conserve her energy. In fall of 2013 we published “Coda,” the beautiful, final piece of her book-length lyric essay, The Circus Train.
Words were Judith’s medium, but words fail to express the huge loss so many of us feel today. She could do it, she who was so able to write about grief, and loss, and death. On behalf of all of the current and former editors, assistant editors, editorial board members, and staff serving Water~Stone Review, I thank Judith Kitchen for the gift of her presence in our pages for so many years. And for her legacy, captured in our Judith Kitchen Creative Nonfiction Prize.
I end with Judith’s own words, from “Coda”:
Spiral down into your past and you only go deeper into its fog. The dog at the end of the block. The hold-out oaks, the crisp hands of their leaves clinging to the branch long past Christmas. Everything moves in consonance with your deepest dreams. The past sways in a long, slow dance. Memory makes of our lives what they were, what they weren’t.
[article courtesy of Water~Stone Review]