Critic, Educator, Mentor, and Friend
I daresay I learned more from Judy than from any other teacher I have ever had, of any subject. Not only was she an exacting editor, she modeled poise, self-assurance, self-discipline, professionalism, and a ferocity born of caring passionately that any of her students did well to emulate in their own careers.
I remember in our first day of class when she rebuked us with advance exasperation: "Don't call me the night before your deadline to tell me you have writer's block.' Her inimitably raspy voice was accompanied by a roll of the eyes. She was intimidating, to say the least. I can tell you that not only did I not dare to tell her I had writer's block, as her student I didn't dare to *have* writer's block. I still hear her voice in my head saying those words whenever I'm on deadline--I invoke it deliberately, just so that writer's block doesn't get any funny ideas.
After I graduated, I was welcomed at her home for private visits many, many times, and I always came away feeling nourished and supported by her caring, her encouragement, and her judicious advice, not to mention fully entertained by her caustic observations about everyone and everything. She invited me to stay with her on my trips to New York, a generous invitation I hardly dared to accept. But I think it says volumes about how important her students were to her, how those relationships with former students were cherished and nourished for the rest of her life.
When I became a teacher myself, those few months I spent in her classroom informed everything I did with my own students. Her recommendations for the direction my career should take and what I should write about still influence me to this day.
I think we all know that Judy Crist was not just a great role model for women writers, but for any writer, period. The school has been lucky to have her for all these 50 years. Though doubtless other great teachers will be found to take her position, she can't be replaced, and studying criticism at Columbia will never be the same.