Jo Coudert’s original intent was to be a playwright, and fresh out of college (Smith), she immersed herself in the world of the Broadway theater, attending plays and workshops several nights a week while working during the day as an editor of psychiatric textbooks and managing editor of the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy. Her plays earned her membership in the New Dramatists Committee, where one of her fellow playwrights was Sol Stein. Sol was starting his own publishing company and was looking for book ideas. Jo suggested a cookbook for people like a recently divorced friend who now had to get his own meals but knew nothing about cooking. Sol liked the idea, offered her a contract, and Jo wrote The I Never Cooked Before Cookbook.
This did so well in both hardcover and paperback that Sol wanted another book. Knowing of Jo’s background in psychology, he suggested it be a self-help book for highly intelligent people. When Jo protested that she didn’t have the credentials to validate her as the author of such a book, Sol suggested that it be called Advice from a Failure. This book proved an immediate bestseller and has remained in print to this day. Two more books followed: The Alcoholic in Your Life and GoWell: The Story of a House.
Her love of playwriting had never faded, and Jo now followed the books with four plays, all of them produced Off-Broadway. About this time, two large white ducks decided to take up residence at her weekend house and were so amusing that she wrote a piece about them for Reader’s Digest. The Digest asked for more such stories and soon she was writing steadily for them and for Woman’s Day, of which she became a Contributing Editor.
One of the pieces for the Digest was about a remarkable black family of five daughters whose father set out to make doctors of them. For several years after the story appeared, one of the daughters, Yvonne Thornton, M.D., whose physician husband was a great fan of Advice from a Failure, urged Jo to write a book about the family. Finally she agreed after tapes of the father came to light. This appeared as The Ditchdigger’s Daughters. The Digest ran the story for a second time, this time as a condensed book, McCall’s printed an excerpt, and the Family Channel adapted it as a movie. This book, too, has never gone out of print.
Jo and Dr. Thornton did another book together, Woman to Woman, about Dr. Thornton’s specialty of obstetrics and gynecology, and Jo went on to write a book about a remarkable therapy dog, The Good Shepherd. When Warner Books inquired if she would be interested in writing about cats, Jo obliged by writing and illustrating Seven Cats and the Art of Living, a book combining her affection for cats and her lasting interest in human behavior. A curious footnote to the Chinese edition was that the illustrations were redrawn to make the cats look "more Chinese."
Now, once again Jo has turned back to the theater—not a play this time but a novel. It is the backstage story of the production of a Broadway musical, and it is called Daisy, Daisy! Published in 2009, it is being followed in 2010 by The Dog Who Healed a Family, a collection of true stories about animals that Harlequin will bring out in August. In the works are another nonfiction book and a second novel.
Through the years Jo has been a collector of quotations and observations that have struck her as insightful and interesting, and often she has added her own take on whatever subject they deal with. Recently she has begun putting one a day of these quotations on a free website for anyone interested.