Dr. Judith A. Hamer – Wisdom Goddess Project Participant

At age three I was desperate to read. I looked longingly at the books for grown-ups in my parents’ library. Every few months I tried to read a page in one of them, believing that increasing age would magically confer literacy on me. I thought the Readers’ Digest was made especially for me since it fit comfortably into my little hands. I tried to copy the letter “e” from
the Digest, since it seemed an especially pretty letter.

My father, a Cornell University graduate in 1924, took my sister and me to the campus when I was 12 and she was 8. In an empty classroom he wrote on the black board the dates that he expected us to graduate from college, 1960 and 1965. On that visit I discovered that I could earn a degree by majoring in English. I imagined four years of just reading – no science, no
math, no history – just novels and poetry and plays. I graduated from Cornell on the expected date with a major – – in English!

I’ve been reading and teaching ever since. A masters from Smith College and a doctorate from Columbia University led to teaching positions at Columbia and New York University and positions in corporate training at PaineWebber and the Rockefeller Foundation. Along the way my husband, Marty, and I raised three girls in Westport, Connecticut who attended the local schools.

In 1971 a friend and I discovered Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye. Astounded because she was talking about us, black women who as girls had imagined becoming white, we formed a black woman’s book group dedicated to reading fiction by black women. That reading led Marty and me to create an anthology of short stories by black American women, Centers of the Self. We discovered that black women began publishing stories in 1859, that they are an important part of American literature. In the past few years, I’ve expanded my reading to include other marginalized authors. I want to hear the voices of those who are often ignored.

Lately I’ve taken another step. I’ve started writing a memoir of my late-in-life marriage to Bill Buckley. It was an unlikely pairing, he a white, socialist filmmaker from Vermont and I, a black democrat and academic from Queens, New York. I am trying to capture the joy of our partnership, its cocoon of wonder and security despite the occasional skepticism of our children, the sidelong glances of passers-by, the inevitable diminutions that age inflicts. This bubble “built for two” grew stronger as we faced our sicknesses and his death.

Reading and writing are like sinking into a warm bubble bath or relaxing into a well-worn chair that supports and enfolds me. They revive my spirit. Can I write a memoir that creates similar feelings in my readers?

Bonnie Ann Kai-Underwood – Wisdom Goddess Project Participant

From June to September, I get to enjoy camping at many music festivals. I am committed to creating gathering spaces for my extended music family/community, so they can gather and play music together!

One summer, I traveled up to New York State from St. Simons Island GA for a workshop on storytelling. There I met my husband, Kai, who is a singer, drummer and curator. On our second date while camping on Lake Champlain, he asked me to marry him. I said “yes” and we have been having camping adventures ever since our beginning. We honeymooned-camping on Cumberland Island, Georgia!

The following year, Kai took me camping at Winter Hawk/Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Falling in love with bluegrass I became a dedicated Bluegrass Camping “Babe”. This involves setting up tarps and multiple shelters for our musician friends who enjoy playing music 24/7. I love my outdoor kitchen! Cooking: baked cheese grits, low country shrimp boil, hot coffee, corn bread, sinful pie, all from my Black Cast Iron skillets, surrounded by our musician friends: 

Key West Jack, Seattle Howard, St John Joe, Blue Knuckles Lou, Accordion Stroker, Mandolin Joni, Harmonica Alan, Poncho Rick, Banjo George, Dobro Adam, Fiddler Richard, Model A David, Singing Stefanie, Dancing Mary and many more musician friends.   

One day, the producer of Grey Fox asked me if I would please host a pre-festival event, we called it “The Fox Hole Pickin’ Party”. I set up Fox Hole headquarters and the Pickin’ party begins. Then there is Rhythm & Roots Cajun Zydeco Festival, and Old Tone Music and Dance Festival. Columbus Day weekend we help to set up   The Big Squeeze / Old Timey Music Party complete with Apple Pressing, a Caldron hung over an open fire, many Model A Fords and tractors in use for creating camping space for more musicians.

Our signature Red and White tarp “Mighty Fine” is set up for fun! From the end of school year through the end of October, I am out doing whatever needs to be done to make the many festivals success for all. I make sure that campers leave at least 10 feet between their tents, helping the farmers cutting down hay, covering gopher holes, whatever needs to be done including interfacing with Police and local Health officials.

Because of my dedication to these events my husband and I were both featured in a bluegrass documentary “ BLUE GRASS JOURNEY”.  

When I am not camping, I reside in Rowayton, CT with my husband Kai Underwood, and our three parrots and one cockatiel. During the school year I teach KINDERGARTEN. I enjoy doing yoga, paddle boarding, riding my yellow biking. We have a new grandchild living in San Diego, CA who we are enjoying immensely.  I hope to soon become a San Diego Bluegrass Babe. I also get to celebrate bluegrass in Georgia! visiting with my mom. We do girls weekend at the Jekyll Island Club where we dance to Big Bands and more!

Since 1983 this has been my Journey and it keeps on going with strife and smiles! Moonrise, Sunsets and Rain Fall! Dancing in the Moon Light! My gifted name from my friends is Queen O’ Hay!

Annie Keefe – Wisdom Goddess Project Participant

When I was 16 I did Lady Macbeth’s hand washing soliloquy as part of an English requirement at the girls’ school I attended in Massachusetts. I’m pretty sure I was terrible, but I got to dress all in black, and stand on the sweeping staircase of the school and people clapped when I finished. I didn’t think much about it other than that it was a strangely pleasant experience.

I headed off to college, figuring for no well thought out reason that I would become an interpreter at the UN after majoring in languages. The school sent its entire junior class abroad for the winter semester. So when January came in my freshman year, all the juniors left for Europe. My roommate cajoled me into auditioning for Charlie’s Aunt and because all the junior actresses were elsewhere, I got the part of Kitty.

I’m pretty sure I was terrible. But I got to wear a corset and some cool hats and people clapped when I finished. And that was it. I was completely and totally hooked. I graduated and headed off to the real world. I was completely unprepared. I had no idea how to become an actress. It wasn’t something anyone but conservatories taught at that moment in time. I
managed one audition for The Rainmaker at the Brattle Street Theater in Boston. I guarantee you I was terrible. I decided that acting was not for me and I’d better find a husband.

As luck would have it, before I found said husband, a friend called and offered me a job as a production assistant at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. I would fill out purchase orders, type things, I’d build a few props, oh, and I would act in the first production of The Three Sisters, playing a maid. This was it, I thought. Leading roles would follow as soon as they saw my maid. When that didn’t happen (yup, I was terrible), I knew I had to find something to keep me involved, because as mentioned…I was totally hooked.

At 23 I was hired as an assistant stage manager, something for which I was well suited, being as I was/am well organized, forward thinking and good at problem solving on my feet. Someone took a chance on me and I worked as a stage manager for the next 30 years at McCarter, Long Wharf Theater on Broadway and Off Broadway, and in the summers at The Shakespeare Festival in Dallas, and off and on at the Westport Country Playhouse. I married, had a child, divorced and married again. And then my life changed. Joanne Woodward asked me to be her partner in renovating the Westport Country Playhouse.

This amazing woman dragged me from behind the scenes and made me a public person. I looked at my skills and realized they were fungible. I had picked up a lot of useful information as a stage manager, I knew a lot of good and talented people. The real self-realization was that I could think like an artist. As such, I have spent the last 20 years working at this remarkable Westport institution. My pet project has been the Script in Hand program; a series of readings of good plays by excellent actors.

My second husband is a real keeper. He is a playwright, a novelist, a screen writer who still makes me laugh. Our combined family of three daughters and now four grandchildren keeps us both hopping. As I think about my next chapter, I think often about acting. Who knows? With 50 years of experience, maybe I wouldn’t be terrible.