Pelham playwright-poet Jennifer O’Grady’s ‘Fridge’ selected for Australian festival, also to be published

Playwright and poet Jennifer O’Grady, who lives in Pelham. (Deborah Lowery)

Pelham resident Jennifer O’Grady, a poet and playwright, has continued to enjoy success during the time of Covid-19, though some of it might not be in the most traditional fashion. Her play “Fridge” was one of a very few plays selected for the inaugural Short+Sweet Perth Festival 2021 out of 650 submissions. It is the first play of O’Grady’s to be performed in Australia, and the first of hers being staged in-person in over a year.

“It’s exciting… I really wish I could be there,” O’Grady said.

“Fridge” and her other plays are reaching audiences on paper, with readings and filmed productions and by Zoom.

“Fridge” will be published this year by Smith and Kraus in “The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2021” and the play “Most Wonderful” will be included in a collection put out by Applause Theater & Cinema Books.

The full-length play “Charlotte’s Letters” won the 2020 Rising Artists Playwriting Award and recently had a filmed reading by Attic Salt Theater Company.

Other plays have been modified for the new world of the pandemic. Some actors have used her pieces as monologues or readings via Zoom, while others go for a more staged production.

“Charlotte’s Letters,” O’Grady’s first and favorite play, is a fictional take on the unusual life of Charlotte Brontë, the writer of Jane Eyre. “I was teaching myself how to write a play while I was writing that play,” she said.

“Charlotte’s Letters” won a number of other awards, including the 1st Place Henley Rose Award and the NEWvember Festival Dublin

She said she found her background in poetry was helpful in creating monologues for theater pieces: “Poetry really focuses on the individual word, so a lot of poetry is editing. You start off with a rough draft, and then you start taking words away, or replacing words, in order to get the best words to make the poem as effective as possible.”

“Then I can send it to an actor or an actor can read it to me and I can hear it,” she said. This helps when she wants to make changes or replace words.

O’Grady majored in English at Vassar College and didn’t think much about her poetry until one day when she was tasked with writing an essay on the poet Robert Frost.

“I really didn’t want to write the essay,” she said, “so I decided I was going to write a poem that was sort of in the style of Robert Frost and hand that in instead.”

Thinking about it years later, O’Grady concluded, it “was a really stupid idea.”

“I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t get in trouble for that, but I just thought, what the heck, this is a boring assignment.”

Once the essay had all been submitted, O’Grady’s English professor asked her to stay after class. She prepared herself for a bad grade, but was happily surprised when the opposite happened.

He told O’Grady that Vassar had a poetry writing workshop, and suggested that she apply. “He was really the first person who saw that I had any ability in poetry,” O’Grady said.

O’Grady applied to the workshop, was accepted and began to take more poetry classes. O’Grady loved them, so she applied to Columbia University and got an MFA in poetry.

She wrote poetry for 20 years and was published in various journals such as Harper’s, The Yale Review, Plume, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review and The Writer’s Almanac.

Her work can also be seen in books and magazines like one of her most popular poems, “Moths,” which was originally published in “Poetry.” It was also set to music by composer Robert Paterson and recorded by the American Modern Ensemble.

O’Grady published her first poetry book when she was in her 30s called “White.” In 2018, she published her second book, “Exclusion and Limitations.”