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Jennifer O’Grady’s journey to writing success began with notebook on nightstand

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Jennifer O’Grady started believing she was a poet when literary magazines began publishing her poems.

“Always, as far back as I can remember, I’ve written poetry,” O’Grady said. “I always enjoyed it. I used to keep a notebook on a nightstand and write at night to relax.”

“I wanted to see my work in places that were well respected, so I started submitting in graduate school,” said O’Grady.

Although she faced lots of rejection, her work started to get picked up. At the age of 37, O’Grady published her first book of poems, “White,” which was no small feat because there is not much demand for poetry collections. “Exclusions and Limitations” followed.

In addition to composing poetry, Pelham resident O’Grady is an award-winning playwright and a mother of two. Her job entails sitting down at a desk in the mornings and “writing till I lose my momentum or the kids come home, whichever is first.”

Her road to becoming a playwright was different from her poetry success. “I’ve always loved theater. I used to make up plays (in kindergarten) and make the kids in my class perform them with me, with costumes out of the dress-up box. I thought I was going to major in drama.”

She didn’t; instead, she earned a BA in English and an MFA creative writing/poetry.

After her son Cameron was born, there was no time to write. “Parenting is a full time job, and I just didn’t have the time,” said O’Grady. “I didn’t write for seven or eight years. After Chloe went to preschool, writing came back, and I found I’d missed it a lot.”

Shortly after that, she began to write her first play, though it came as a surprise. “I sat down one day to write a poem and found it coming out as dialogue,” O’Grady said. She taught herself playwrighting over five years. After her first play drew attention, she continued writing.

“When writing plays, you write for the actors and directors, not for a reader” as with poems, she said. “For aspiring playwrights, see lots of theater. It doesn’t have to be Broadway. There’s tons of free plays. Read plays, learn about theater and what’s come before. Try your hand at acting, or if that’s not your thing, other parts of the theater. All of it goes into plays.”

O’Grady’s plays include “Ellery,” “Complex Analysis,” “Juggling with Mr. Fields” and “Paranormal Love.”

For poets, O’Grady said, “Read lots of poetry. Reading is so important for becoming a writer. Don’t be afraid of poetry even if it has a reputation for being difficult to understand. Look for opportunities to take workshops and classes. Just do it! People who wind up being the most successful are the ones who keep working on their craft.” 

O’Grady’s career demonstrates that working hard, finding the methods that work for you and trying new things are important when trying to become a writer in any form.

“One of the great things about poetry is that it makes people feel less alone,” said O’Grady. “There’s poetry about everything, no matter the experience. Poetry enriches our lives.”

If you’re interested in reading some of Ms. O’Grady’s work you can find it at www.jenniferogrady.net.

About the Writer
Margot Phillips, Literary Editor

Hi! I'm Margot; I'm in the 10th grade at PMHS. I love biology, reading, and writing. I'm the literary editor for the Examiner, and I've previously written...

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Jennifer O’Grady’s journey to writing success began with notebook on nightstand