What do Homer, Virginia Woolf, applesauce cake, Wales, diary pages, and postmenopausal zest have in common?
They’re all contained within the wide and wonderful brain of writer, teacher, activist, sustainable farmer and now octogenarian, Judy Hogan.
I first met Judy in the public library in downtown Durham, NC, where she was teaching a class she called “A Roadmap Guide for Beginning Writers Using Ezra Pound’s ‘ABC of Reading.'” A large group of us met weekly to discuss reading assignments which ranged from selections from Homer’s “Odyssey,” Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and Chaucer to, somewhere in there, bits of Proust and Virginia Woolf. And to read the mostly fiction we budding authors created in response.
I left North Carolina soon thereafter, but ongoing correspondence with Judy over the years kept me informed of her multitudinous activities, which included organizing a Sister Cities project to further understanding between writers in Russia and the United States, teaching classes locally and online, and books, books, books. A list of her many publications can be found here. One I turn to regularly is her “PMZ (postmenopasualzest): Poor Woman’s Cookbook, which includes such recipes such as the hearty rye-soy wholegrain bread at the center of her simple diet and the luscious applesauce cake she’s more-healthily adapted from “Joy of Cooking.”
More about her feisty and independent life can be found at her blog, postmenopausalzest.
She prefaces every day’s work in her special chair where she writes pages in her decades-ongoing diary.
One notion she introduced me to was that of taking a writing holiday: setting aside a day, a weekend, a week, to devote to her own work instead of teaching or nurturing that of others. Her most enviable holidays were spent in Wales, where she made a second home for herself at a friend’s BnB, spending several summer weeks walking, reading, and writing the diary and poetry which have been her trademarks.
Out of those holidays, as well as the poetry she hoped for, she came up with the idea for a mystery series centered around a woman of a certain age, Penny Weaver. (Astute readers will recognize the allusion to one of Judy’s favorite female characters from her beloved classics, Homer’s Penelope.) The first, “Sands of Gower,” is set in a small village on the coast of Wales and depicts Penny as her yearly writing holiday is intruded upon by, you guessed it, murder. We meet a roster of village characters as well as the quirky international guests who disrupt Penny’s quiet BnB. Along the way, we get a real flavor of holidaying in Wales, complete with walks along windy cliffs, digestive biscuits, lots of tea, and Welsh cakes, a kind of scone cooked on a griddle.
The series continues with Penny back in her native North Carolina, where she grows organic vegetables and counsels a growing circle of multi-generational friends and family in the small fictional town of Riverdell. Several of the books involve Judy’s ongoing interest in local politics and activism. The latest, “Death of a Hell-Razor,” returns us to a small, historically black college where Penny does a stint of teaching, a setting first introduced to us in “Killer Frost,” which was a finalist for the Malice Domestic Prize.
As in “Frost,” Penny is deeply involved in trying to help along the disadvantaged students in her remedial and reading classes. Though several seemed destined to flunk out, we root for their efforts and cheer Penny’s encouragement–until we discover that one of them may have committed a murder.Academic cozies abound, but I don’t know any other that feature the struggles specific to the historically black college.
Throughout the now-nine books which make up the Penny Weaver series, we’re interested in “who done it,” but we are even more fascinated by the wise insights of the books’ leading character. Icing on the Welsh cake is the developing relationship between poet-detective and the Welsh policeman which began in “Sands of Gower.”
The series, along with Judy’s other books, are also available at Amazon and on Kindle.