Jean Pedrick: Her Life, Her Work

Jean Pedrick was born August 5, 1922 in Salem, Massachusetts. Her family remained there for five years before moving to Marblehead, and later on, Danvers.

When Pedrick was eight she wrote her first poem after sharing her thoughts on sitting in bed watching the moon rise in the family yard with her father, who told her, “That’s a poem! Get up, sit down, and write it.” She continued writing to secure a bond with her father.

At the age of ten, Pedrick’s parents divorced. She and her siblings, Anne and Nathan, were brought to spend the summer in Kennebunkport, Maine with her mother’s family. Her grandmother would figure prominently in a book of poems written later in Pedrick’s life. By her teenage years Pedrick was writing and being published with what she called "tedious regularity."

After high school, Pedrick attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts (then a women’s college), where she graduated in 1943. Following her graduation, she went to work in a war plant before becoming an editorial assistant at Houghton Mifflin in Boston. While at Houghton Mifflin she was mentored by her boss, the editor-in-chief, Ferris Greenslet. Houghton Mifflin would publish her novel, The Fascination in 1947. However, upon its acceptance, the publishing firm relieved her of her paying job because her status as employee/novelist was an embarrassment to them.

It was during this time that she met and became engaged to Dr. Frank J. Kefferstan, to whom she would remain married for the rest of her life. Following her engagement, Greenslet advised her to keep her publishing name as Pedrick.

book cover

After a brief summer stint at Yaddo in 1947, Pedrick returned home to Boston. In February of 1948 she married Kefferstan and the two immediately left for New Orleans, where Pedrick awaited clearance to join her husband in Panama. By April of 1948 she was in the Canal Zone and the two stayed there until early 1950, when Kefferstan was discharged from the Army and they returned to Boston to settle down.

Pedrick continued her writing in Boston as she had in Panama. Records from the time indicate she was sending out poems to such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Yankee, and The Paris Review.

In 1951 Pedrick’s first son Laurence was born, followed by his brother John in 1957. It was also during this time that Skimmilk Farm was purchased and renovated. The Kefferstans intended the farm to be a place for their boys to get out of the city and breathe the fresh air of the country. Back in Boston, the Kefferstans resided at 48 Mt. Vernon St. on Beacon Hill.

house

In the 1960s Pedrick began to write prolifically, sending out poems not only to magazines, but to publishers, in hopes of getting a book-length volume of poetry published. She was also fulfilling her dual role of wife and mother at this time.

In 1973, along with four other women and two men, Pedrick founded the Alice James Poetry Cooperative, which later became known as Alice James Books. This was a pivotal moment in Pedrick’s life as a writer, because the founding of the press enabled her to publish her poetry in book form. It also put her into direct contact with those New Hampshire and Seacoast writers who would make up the Skimmilk Farm Workshop.

farm sign

Pedrick was also a member of the New England Poetry Club and taught poetry at Northeastern University and the Boston Center for Adult Education, where she utilized the workshop form of Skimmilk in the classroom. Additionally she wrote for The Beacon Hill News for some time, musing on a variety of subjects dear to the hearts of the residents of Boston’s illustrious Beacon Hill community. Pedrick was also one of three co-founders of Rowan Tree Press.

In 1993 Pedrick won the Bruce Rossley Literary Award, created by 96 Inc., which recognizes the under-recognized literary voices of the City of Boston.

The remainder of this decade was a time of immense change in Pedrick’s life. Among the many changes was the 1998 death of her husband, Frank Kefferstan, from lung cancer. Despite the sadness over the loss of her husband, Pedrick continued to open the farm each summer accompanied by a family member or friend.

Jean Pedrick portrait

Although suffering from medical problems, the last years of Pedrick’s life were as rich as before. She kept up her writing, publishing Catgut, her last full-length collection of poetry, in 2003.

During the summers, the Skimmilk workshop continued. Pedrick was not at a loss for companions at the farm. Her granddaughter Emily was often there, and the poet Michelle Adams stayed at the farm for two summers. The local press took an interest in the workshop and several articles were written about it.

During the summers of 2004 and 2005 Ken Browne, a friend of Jean’s and a New York documentary filmmaker, interviewed the Skimmilk poets for his film, Mondays at Skimmilk: 30 Years of Writers at Work.

On Monday July 31, 2006, a Skimmilk Monday, Jean Pedrick Kefferstan passed away at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire, following a stroke.

The Skimmilk poets, along with family and friends of Pedrick’s, honored her life and poetry at a memorial service held in late August at the farm under the maple tree where the workshop was conducted, and around the table where they conversed and ate.