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Judith Claire Mitchell - Author

About the Author

Judith Claire Mitchell, author of 'The Last Day of the War', is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, she currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, the artist Don Friedlich.

Below is a Q&A with this author.


What I’m reading: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.


What I’m listening to: I’m tempted to lie and name some super cool contemporary musician, but the truth is I tend to listen to Cole Porter and the Gershwins and classic Broadway musicals—that sort of thing. I don’t know—maybe my mother played this kind of music while I was in the womb. I also like anything Stephen Sondheim. I’ve been on a Company kick this week. Here’s to the ladies who lunch!

What I’m watching: I don’t watch much TV, but I’ve succumbed to the 5th season of Downton Abbey and will watch the last season of Mad Men whenever it decides to return. Otherwise, it’s pretty much cat videos and clips from The Daily Show.

Favourite word: In terms of its sound, I’m fond of pomplemousse, the French word for grapefruit. In terms of its meaning, I like the Yiddish word mensch.

Favourite song: “I’m Still Here.” Sondheim, from Follies. It’s sung by an older woman who was once a big star and is now coping with the anonymity that comes with aging. It’s specific to performers, but I hear it as a kind of feminist anthem. I like to belt it out when nobody’s home.

Living person you most admire: Marilynne Robinson. She was my teacher in grad school and she continues to inspire me through her novels and essays. She writes about the human capacity for goodness in a way that is profound and wise, but that also keeps the reader engaged with the plot and characters. I know my writing will never hold a candle to hers, but I do aspire to being as caring and generous a teacher to my students as she was to me.

The trait you most deplore in yourself: My memory. My horrible, sieve-like memory. Do not get mugged in front of me. Unless we go to court within five minutes, I will be useless as an eye witness.

The trait you most deplore in others: Talking during movies.

The book you wish you’d written: E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. When I first read it many, many years ago, I was struck by the blending of fictional and nonfictional characters, the beautifully-crafted yet accessible prose, the use of history to comment on the present, and the riveting plot that is at once specific to the characters and a broad examination of US culture. I think—I hope—you can see my own attempts to do similar things in A Reunion of Ghosts.

The book that everyone should read: Any book by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The book you’d like republished: I was about to say During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, Joan Chase’s 1983 debut about cousins growing up in Ohio, but when I looked it up I saw that The New York Review of Books has recently republished it. So now I don’t have an answer to this question. Thanks a lot, New York Review of Books.

Writing ritual: Is avoidance a ritual?

Best advice ever received: Best writing advice was from another teacher, Frank Conroy: “The project is nothing; the process is everything.” Best living advice was from Claire Mitchell, my mom: “Life is so full of sorrow and suffering that when the chance for happiness comes along, you should grab it with both fists.”

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