I have words and music in my genes. Born in Manhattan just as World War II ended, I grew up in an arty family (my father and grandmother were writers; my mother, a pianist), mostly in rural New Jersey. We moved back to New York when I was in seventh grade. Despite decades in the city, those early years in the country still dwell inside me: every leaf, every tree and rabbit. I’ve never lost my sense of the beauty and dispassion of nature.
In school I continued to be literary (“I want to be a writer—a good writer,” I once murmured in my sleep during a class trip, to the bemusement of my bunkmates). Although my college major was history (Washington University, B.A., 1967), my senior thesis was about the relation between British social policies and the reformist novels of the nineteenth century (Dickens, Disraeli, Charlotte Brontë, Mrs. Gaskell). I snuck fiction in through a side door.
Ah, yes, fiction: My ambition was and is to write it (I have had stories published in Ploughshares and Seventeen) because it is what I love to read. I also write book reviews for bookreporter.com. Much of my career, however, has been devoted to editing: first at Liberation, a left-wing political monthly; then at Cosmopolitan, where as Copy Chief I learned the nuts and bolts of magazine production; and finally an 18-year stint at Mademoiselle, now sadly defunct. There I ultimately became Executive Editor.
When my mother died in 1996 it seemed a moment for a break with the past. In 1998 I left Mademoiselle and spent a year in Jerusalem with my husband, David, a professor of philosophy at City College of New York and the author of 12 books (in marrying him, I also acquired three incomparable stepchildren: Michael, Sarah, and Eli). In 2000 I switched gears from editing to writing: For ten years I was a freelance Contributing Editor for O, the Oprah Magazine, producing monthly style features and first-person essays.
I also wrote about the aging body (“It Figures”) for the essay collection In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life After 50, edited by Emily W. Upham and Linda Gravenson (Atria, 2010). In this book I am privileged to be in the company of such writers as Erica Jong, Paula Fox, Gail Godwin, Vivian Gornick, Tina Howe, Sharon Olds, Edna O’Brien, and Ntotzake Shange.
At 66, with the internet looming ever larger in our lives—and at the risk of seeming self-promoting or obnoxious by the standards of my generation—I decided to create an online “home” for my own writing. In addition to functioning as a guide to my published work, www.katherineweissman.com has featured new essays and shorter blog entries in which I rant, praise, and obsess.
Throughout my life I have pursued all sorts of hobbies, many of them harking back to my childhood: studying ballet (see my article for Self about being out of work and on pointe), piano, and music theory; drawing, painting, and calligraphy. I have also worked as a hospice volunteer (the subject of an O piece called “The Home of the Brave”), and I am very much concerned with the way our culture turns away from and denies ageing and death.
From the sublime to the (sometimes) ridiculous, I am also crazy about clothing, textiles, and all things design related (I am a Project Runway addict). One of my goals on the site has been to talk about how to be less obsessed with fashion—yet still dress well—as one grows older.
I’m 71 now, and I feel neither shy or retiring. For the last few years I’ve been scrolling down to a new chapter: a fantasy novel in which female power and the ageing process play a major role. Tentative title: Merîle: Island of Women. I also have a non-fantasy novel in the works, The House of Delight.
It’s taken me years, but finally I’m fulfilling that “I want to be a writer” dream I had as a teenager. It is never too late.