Judith Kitchen (6 August 1941 – 6 November 2014)

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.

I love it!  Dinty sent it to me too.  Maybe I WILL go down in history.

 Over the years, I also studied under Judith at RWW for ten days and we’d run in to each other at various writing conventions.  I kept in touch by email occasionally. I’d email her about journals I’d had essays published, or about the progress on my ms. Even after she got cancer, Judith always emailed me back with enthusiasm and encouragement.

Hi Jill–great to hear from you!  I remember that essay well, and the news is terrific!  Keep us posted, and have a wonderful holiday.  Judith 

When my book was accepted for publication I emailed Judith and asked if she’d be willing to blurb it for me. She said yes. I didn’t realize that her heath had deteriorated so much. She didn’t really say. Instead, she put in the work. She read the whole book. She thought about it, blurbed it, and emailed.

Hi Jill–I so enjoyed reading this. The blurb result does not exactly please me, but it does seem to be what I came back to time and again, in one form or another. Here’s what I have. If you’d like it a bit longer, I could certainly add to it…feel free to edit. OR to ask me to go back to the drawing board. Hope all is well.

Sometimes you don’t have to spend a lot of time with someone in order to learn from them, and care for them. Judith was like that. She genuinely believed in writers and their writing. It wasn’t about her. She wasn’t self-promotional. In the writing world she was a pretty refreshing and unusual person to find: a writer who didn’t tell you about her own writing, but always asked you about yours.

The first essay I ever read by Judith was “On the Farm.” She sent it to us to read as a prep for the Bemidiji Conference. Later it was published at Brevity.

When I teach essay class to high school students, “On the Farm” is always on the curriculum. I wish I could tell Judith that. There are high school students reading “On the Farm.” Every year. Her writing lives on. Her voice. Her life.

Thank you, Judith. You taught me not only how to be a better writer, but how to be a better person. When my book comes out, in a few months, and I hold it in my hand, I will also be holding your name. I like that idea. You were and ever will be a part of my writing life.





Jill Kandel
  • George Randels
    Posted at 16:13h, 15 January Reply

    Hi Jill —

    Judith was my big sister (giving me the privilege of calling her “Judy”). Your remembrances are so genuine, and I think they capture how she bridged the gap between professional and personal. I hope you’ll add me to the list of those who should be notified when your book comes out — I’d like to read her blurb, and your work!

    George Randels
    Port Townsend, WA

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 06:46h, 16 January Reply

      Thank you, George. It was lovely to hear from you. Your sister’s life was a very special part of my own. My book came out about three weeks ago. If you look at the top of my webpage you will see a “buy” tab. You can go there to purchase a copy. Thank you for your kind words!

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