Judy Doenges: Memories and Good Wishes

Today the English department will be holding a very special celebration. Judy Doenges is retiring this year, and as sad as we are to see her go, we are sending her off with our best wishes at this upcoming event. To honor her here on the blog, we’ve been collecting memories and well wishes from a few people who studied and worked with her over the years.

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Airica Parker: “Best to you on your continuing journey and thank you for all of your contributions to our department and community.”

Jill Salahub: “Judy and I started at CSU the same year. She was a professor, and I was a graduate student in her Form & Technique: Fiction class. I was also a new GTA that year, teaching for the first time and completely terrified. What I learned from Judy that semester and beyond is that you can be a quiet, introverted person, and still be a powerful teacher and communicator, that a love of solitude can actually be a strength. On a personal level, I’ve always appreciated her love and care for her pets, and spent many a gathering at Judy’s house in those first years hiding under tables and behind couches with her various dogs and cats.”

Steven Schwartz: “I have only one thing to say about Judy Doenges, and it’s really a question. Is she actually a saint? I mean, I know she can’t be, because how can you make so many trips to Las Vegas and be a candidate for sainthood? But, really, did I ever hear Judy complain about the committee assignments the rest of us all griped about? Did Judy ever say no to that thesis student the rest of us feared was psychotic? Did Judy, in attitude, speech, gesture, or implication, ever indicate that goddamn it, I have no time to write with this job! But, let’s be clear, very clear: Judy Doenges is no pushover. That woman can hold her own against anybody, and she was a joy to work with: a wonderful writer, a brilliant teacher, and one phenomenal colleague.”

Barbara Sebek: “I was so excited when Judy joined the department and to be introduced to her amazing collection What She Left Me—such a beautiful book.  Only this current academic year have I had the pleasure of experiencing Judy’s patient, other-directed contributions and leadership on a labor-intensive committee. Her uncomplaining, conscientious, and cheerful stance has buoyed us all.  More personally, Judy has left her mark on John’s and my life in adorable and hilarious ways: from the impromptu creation of a dog named ‘Musty’ during a party game celebrating Sarah’s birthday, to the talking Elvis Presley keychain that she gave to John for his birthday many years ago. Ever since, Elvis has served as the outgoing message on John’s voicemail. I’ll never hear ‘Thank you very much, this is Elvis Presley’ without thinking of Judy!”

What She Left Me book cover

Pattie Cowell: “One of my favorite images of Judy is about the thoroughness of the research she does for her novels.  I picture her riding around in a Chicago police patrol car, carefully taking notes.  Well, maybe it was more like drinking it all in rather than taking notes.  I guess I’ll have to ask her.”

EJ Levy: “It’s hard to heave my heart into my mouth to say all that I’ll miss about having Judy as a colleague. She’s been a rock, an inspiration as a writer and a person for me, since I first arrived at DIA seven years ago, where she picked me up for my on-campus interview, soothing my nerves with her calm, as she’s done ever since, steadying the boat as the MFA program has transformed over the last six years with hires and retirements.

Judy has been the one I’ve turned to when I had a question about advising or drafting a new course syllabus, for book recommendations and advice on revising my own work, when looking for a doctor or a therapist or the best pizza joint for delivery. She’s the person I knew I could count on to have smart and thoughtful and compassionate answers to almost any question, personal or institutional, literary or academic.

I will miss the sound of her wonderful laugh up the hall; I will miss her amazing tiki drinks; I will miss her calm and knowledgeable contributions to meetings, and her numerous dog tchotchkes.

I will miss the ways Judy always surprises me–on and off the page–with her love of Vegas, for example, and with her fictional characters at the margins of culture and history, helping them take their rightful place in our consciousness, making room for voices we’ve not heard before and need to, helping us hear those voices, as she’s helped the lucky students she’s taught and mentored.

I had the great pleasure and honor of being part of a writing group with Judy, which enabled me to complete a book that likely would not have been written without her (and Leslee’s) generous feedback, their keen critical insights, and inspiring work ethic. It’s been a privilege to read her draft work and to see how it becomes the remarkable, award-winning, important fiction that I and so many others admire.

My only comfort that I take in her retirement is that she’ll have more time for her own brilliant writing. I, for one, can’t wait to read her books.”
Judy Doenges at a reading

Marnie Leonard: “You’ve guided so many Creative Writing graduate students to achieve what they had hoped to do: to become mature writers, each with a thesis they could be proud of. Because I understand “emerging-writer angst,” your successes on their behalf were no small feats. As Graduate Coordinator, you gave me insights, advice, and confidence that I’ve always appreciated and could build upon as the graduate programs assistant. Your writing is so lovely, and I know you’ll be sharing more of it with the world. And it was a delight to receive a call from one of the Glimmer Train sisters who, in the process of contacting you, shared how beautiful she thought your story that she published was. I’ll miss you—we all will. May your retirement be all you hope it will be!”

Louann Reid: “When Judy and I were fairly new in our roles as graduate coordinator and department chair, we spent a couple of days driving to and from a national leadership conference in Boulder. I enjoyed our time together and thinking about what we could do for department faculty and students. It wasn’t all serious talk; we discussed summer reading, motorcycles, and probably our shared interests in good food. I appreciate Judy for her judgment, positive outlook, sense of humor, and sound counsel on issues that came before EC and T & P. I love to walk by her office and hear the sound of conversations with students. I can’t make out specific words, but the tone is always encouraging. The hallowed halls will seem more somber without her.”