Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight on . . . Judy Moffett. I'm so happy to introduce you to Judy today. One of my favorite things about this feature is expanding my horizons and being exposed to new-to-me authors. Judy is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction and of science fiction, literary criticism, and poetry. Talk about diversity!
Judy is non-specialist in other areas too; for example, she lives in two states and speaks at least two languages. The critical question, though, is this: Is she really a Pennsylvania author? Let's find out. [Note: Judy was in the process of moving and graciously scrambled to find some photos to share; these are non-digital.]
I’m not a birthright Pennsylvanian; I was born in Louisville and have moved around a lot. But I’ve done quite a bit of time in the Keystone State. After completing a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught for two years at Penn State’s Behrend College in Erie. Later I came back to teach creative writing at Penn from 1978 to 1993, and since 2005 have been spending the fall and winter in Swarthmore. I was surprised, when I’d added all this up, to discover that I’ve actually lived in Pennsylvania longer than anyplace else.
But all by itself that wouldn’t, to my mind, necessarily qualify me to be considered a Pennsylvania writer. Or a Penntucky or Kensylvania writer either (my runner-up state, of birth as of residency, turns to be Kentucky). It seems to me an equally critical requirement that the place itself be enough of a presence in enough of the writing. A hypothetical science-fiction writer, born and bred in Pennsylvania, who located all her books off-world, might even so be considered a PA writer; the question would get murkier for an import like me. And conversely, though I grew up in Cincinnati from age three to college, Ohio has left only the occasional clear footprint in my work.
I was a poet long before I wrote any fiction. A number of pieces in my first poetry collection, Keeping Time (LSU, 1976), were nature poems, written in Erie and set in the landscape south of town—was so happy to be out of West Philadelphia that it seemed I had never appreciated cornfields, cow pastures, even autumn foliage so intensely. And when Penn hired me back, to teach the reading and writing of poetry, I was pleased at the job offer but my heart sank at the thought of returning to city living. I looked for a house as far from West Philadelphia as I could get, and still be on a train line within a reasonable commute.
So it was that in the early eighties, when I starting writing science fiction, I was living, with the husband I had met on my first day back at Penn, in a woodsy Delaware County subdivision, fifteen miles from Center City and a twelve-minute drive from Ridley Creek State Park.
Though I hadn’t even known the park was there when I bought the house, I discovered it almost right away. The place had been a private estate, with 2,600 acres of fields and pastures, a mature beech forest, small stone mill workers’ houses, and running through it all the beautiful signature creek which had formerly turned the mill wheels. This spectacular unlooked-for resource single-handedly reconciled me to my new urban commitment. I drove out there as often as I could, memorized the maze of marked trails and hiked them through every season and kind of weather. My husband and I jogged there for a time; some of the paths are paved. We picked blackberries and made jam; we gathered wineberri
More stories shortly emerged, clung together, and became the basis of what we in the trade call a “fix-up”: individual pieces arranged chronologically, with bridgework to fill in the narrative gaps. The result was published as my second novel, The Ragged World (St. Martin’s, 1991). The ragged world of the book-in-progress expanded to include more of Philadelphia and the eastern part of the state, including the Poconos, especially the area around the Appalachian Trail where it crosses the Delaware River at the Water Gap, and where Ted and I had a timeshare. Two of my characters attend German
While these stories were multiplying into a book, I was also working on a “real” first
I respectfully submit the above to establish my credentials as a Pennsylvania writer. Or a Penntucky one.
I'm both convinced and proud to count Judy as a Pennsylvania author. If you haven't been to Pennsylvania, I encourage you to visit some of the places Judy mentions; all beautiful and all worth your while.
Here are the covers of Judy's books mentioned in her post:
For more more on Judy and to learn about her other books, be sure to visit her website.
Judith Moffett is an English professor, a poet, a Swedish translator, and the author of eleven books in five genres, including four science-fiction novels and two collections of poetry. She has received a number of literary awards, including two Fulbright Grants to Sweden, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Translation Grant. Two of her novels were New York Times Notable Books. Moffett divides the year between Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and her hundred-acre ex-farm near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Widowed in 1998, she lives with her standard poodles, Fleece and Feste.
For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.