Bio

Judy_2

If you need an official media bio, here’s this:

Judith Claire Mitchell is the author of the novels The Last Day of the War and A Reunion of Ghosts. She teaches undergraduate and graduate fiction workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is the Dorothy Draheim Professor of English. She has received grants and fellowships from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and Bread Loaf, among others. She lives in Madison with her husband, the artist Don Friedlich.

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But if you just want to know some things about me, then here’s something I wrote two years ago. Some of it’s a bit out of date, but most of it still holds true:

Let’s start with the name. Judith Claire Mitchell. I use all three because when you try to find me by googling plain old Judith Mitchell the results are not pretty. Also, I like the name Claire. It’s my mother’s name. I like my mother. When I see her first name printed next to mine, I feel as though I’m acknowledging all she’s done for me.

That said, I tend to go by Judy.

I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, educated in Manhattan, employed for many years as a paralegal in Providence, then educated some more in Iowa City. After that, I moved to Madison. These days I’m a professor teaching fiction writing in the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin.

Growing up, I was the kind of kid who eschewed sunlight, preferring to stay inside and write terrible stories about cats on vacation and parakeets on the lam. I continued writing throughout my school years. I continued even after my 7th grade guidance counselor told me that writing was not a viable career for girls and urged me to focus instead on acquiring secretarial skills because what if my husband died and I needed to support myself. I continued even after my high school English teacher told me that women writers could be competent, but never truly great because name one. (Wasn’t life before second wave feminism fun?)

But I stopped writing after receiving a BA in English (with a specialization in creative writing) from Barnard College. Or, more accurately, I stopped writing fiction. Instead, I got what was supposed to be a temporary gig as a paralegal, first at a Wall Street law firm, and later at a firm in Providence where I drafted wills and trusts. I was unambitious, but content. My old guidance counselor would have been proud.

Then came a confluence of expected and unexpected events: a major birthday, recession-related troubles at the law firm, the death of a friend with its reminder of life’s brevity, and, on a more positive note, meeting and moving in with an artist who, every day, was (and is) involved in the creative process.

That’s when I recalled that the paralegal thing was supposed to be short term. I also thought of something my mother used to tell me. “Judy,” she’d say, “life is so full of sorrow and suffering that whenever the chance for happiness comes along, I want you to grab it with both fists.”

I started grabbing. First, I took a life-changing summer writing workshop with the amazing Pamela Painter. She told me to apply to MFA programs, so I did. I got into the Iowa Writers Workshop, so I went. After the Workshop, I was awarded a fellowship by the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. When my fellowship year ended, I was asked to stick around and do some adjuncting. And then, upon the sale of my first novel, The Last Day of the War, the good people at UW invited me to hop on over to the tenure track.

As anyone who is or has ever been on the academic job market knows, all this constitutes astounding good luck bordering on the just plain miraculous, and I am not only grateful, but, even after all this time, somewhat stunned. I also expect to be hit by a bus any moment now.

IMG_0177The bus will come sooner or later. That’s how life works. But as of this writing, things go well. I’m awaiting publication of my second novel, A Reunion of Ghosts. I’m filling my time with other writing projects, teaching, directing our MFA program, and hanging out with the aforesaid artist and our West Highland white terrier. The three of us live in a house in the woods in the Town of Madison (adjacent to the City of Madison), where we’re visited frequently by small herds of deer, gazes of raccoons, passels of possums, flocks of wild turkeys, fluffles of bunnies, and annoyances of Segway explorers. To date no reunions of ghosts have materialized, but the terrier is keeping an eye out.

–JCM
Aug. 17, 2014