Current City, State, Country
Birth City, State, Country
Judith Chalmer is a writer of personal reflection and a community leader within the arts and humanities. She identifies as Jewish, queer, and disabled. Her writing includes her own poetry, and co-translation from Japanese to English with poet, Michiko Oishi. From 1982-1987 she was co-founder, board member, and Vice Chair of the Conference on Judaism in Northern New England and Southern Quebec. From 1991-1993 she was a speaker for the Vermont State Holocaust Commission. From 1996-1999 she was a member of the Steering Committee for the “Annual Gathering of Holocaust Families” presented by the University of Vermont Center for Holocaust Studies and was a lecturer and panel member for the Center’s summer institute for teachers. From 1997-2004 she taught creative writing at Vermont College, Norwich University, and Union Institute and University. From 1990-2001 she was co-founder and member of a poetry performance group, “Acme Poets,” that toured to more than twenty locations across Vermont. In 2001 she received the Great Performances Award from the Onion River Arts Council for “Cruzando Fronteras/Clearing Customs/Preselenje,” a dance narrative based on oral histories she recorded of immigrants living in Central Vermont, performed by the storytellers.
She is co-founder of a women’s interracial alliance ongoing since 2000. In 2005 she was author and performer of a one-woman show, “Don’t Go In There!” exploring complexities of racial awareness as a Jewish child in Buffalo, New York, and as a Jewish adult in Vermont. In 2010 her poem series, “Wild on my Tongue,” was performed as part of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts’ 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Stonewall Uprising. From 2005-2017 she was Executive Director of VSA Vermont, a non-profit using the arts to engage the capabilities and enhance the confidence of children and adults with disabilities.
She is the 2018 recipient of the Vermont Arts Council’s Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service in the Arts. A Governor’s appointee to the Vermont Humanities Board from 2019-2024, she was Board Chair from 2020-2022. In 2022 she was appointed to the Selection Panel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Vermont. She has been an active member of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier, Vermont, and Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, where she served as chair of the adult education committee.
What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?
Growing up in an urban setting, the materials of my religious life were brass candlesticks, silver kiddush cups, and even stainless-steel dishes that glowed with my mother’s appreciation for how much easier they were than the silver she’d had to polish for Shabbat when she was a girl. The prayers I listened to during services at my synagogue, as I knotted and unknotted the cloth ribbon bookmarks in the prayerbook, referenced deserts, fig trees, honey, and rain. In my twenties, I built a log house in Vermont and encountered a completely different kind of sanctuary, the winter woods, more silent than anything I’d ever experienced, so silent that every whisper, every thought was absorbed and returned, changed. Moonlit nights were soft and painful, dazzling and irresistible. And it was cold, twenty below zero, back then. My nostril hairs froze. My eyelashes froze. The snow squeaked, crushed beneath my boots. Every step forward was a step into something so strange and new it could only be experienced as sacred, a step out of the assumed, for me, and I had no context for it. I had a great yearning for a way to incorporate the life I was experiencing in Vermont into a Jewish context. I spent fifty years trying unsuccessfully to find a prayerful expression for that feeling of wonder, until quite recently, in my 70th year, I realized fifty years of yearning to pray has been my prayer. My book, Minnow, is an attempt to convey the meaning of that yearned-for expression. My poem, “Elul” won first place in the 2012 Lilith Magazine Charlotte Newberger Prize.
My first book, Out of History’s Junk Jar, was written as I began a search for my father’s life in Germany including his imprisonment in Dachau, and the experiences of his mother and sister, as well as my cousin, in hiding in the Netherlands. It is not only the impact of family experience and personal loss that continues to inform my writing but an awareness of the nearness of death, the enormous capacities of human behavior, the presence of history and its ghosts, that continue to inform my work.
Minnow (Kelsey Books, 2020)
Out of History’s Junk Jar (Time Being Books, 1995)
Deepening Snow; co-translated with author, Michiko Oishi (Plowboy Press, 2012)
Red Fish Alphabet; co-translated with author, Michiko Oishi (Honami Syoten, Tokyo, 2008)
Links to Sample Works
Goddard College, B.A., 1975
Vermont College/Norwich University, M.F.A., 1991