The Atelier Delphine Woman: Ivy Pochoda

Learn about Ivy and her story.

Ivy Pochoda is a badass friend of mine. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she is now based in Los Angeles where we met through mutual friends.

She is an award-winning novelist (of six critically acclaimed novels) and a former world ranked squash player. Harvard educated, she was captain of Harvard Squash and won the national intercollegiate individual title her senior year. After graduating, she moved to London and then Amsterdam to play professionally between 1998 and 2007. Reaching world No. 38, she played for Team USA in three world team championships and three times made the semis of the National Singles. While on tour, she wrote the first draft of her first novel, The Art of Disappearing, which came out in 2009. She has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College.

Her books have been widely translated, and her most recent novel Sing Her Down was published in May 2023. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times & The Los Angeles Review of Books. She taught creative writing at Studio 526 in Los Angeles’s Skid Row for many years and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California Riverside Palm Desert low-residency MFA program.

Ivy is fun, dynamic, has a lot of impact on my life—well, on anyone’s life I would easily say quite honestly. She is one of the most inspirational people to me. But on top of that, she is vulnerable, tender, full of dedication, and of course possesses top-notch observational skills. We have a lot in common although our upbringings took place on opposite sides of the earth. I am excited to share a little bit of her story: a snippet of our conversation below, and styles worn by her from 24SS and PF.

Atelier Delphine: Can you tell me a bit more about your background, where you grew up, your college life, and how you wound up in LA after spending years in The Netherlands?

Ivy Pochoda: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York back before Brooklyn was cool. In the 1970s it was considered a kind of a wild thing for people like my parents to move there. The borough was changing, but change was slow at that point. I went to a pretty nifty school called Saint Ann’s where they privileged art, creativity, and literature. And it really gave me a grounding in many different creative art forms. But at the same time I was playing squash, a relatively niche sport. I was pretty good from a young age which was a little at odds with my creative side. I was national champion in every age category when I was a junior player. Squash and my desire to study classical Greek took me to Harvard College. And while I had all the benefits of a rather elite education, I wasn’t done with sports. So, I moved to Amsterdam to pursue my professional squash aspirations. I competed on the world tour for many years and was member of the U.S.  National Team on and off for a nearly a decade. But I always knew that professional sports weren’t my ultimate calling. I can’t remember when I decided to be a writer. In fact, it seems, even now, hubristic to imagine that you get to be a writer. For a long time, I knew I didn’t want to have a traditional desk job as privileged and snobby as that sounds. And I knew I wanted to do something creative. At first, I thought I wanted to be a magazine editor or a journalist and that’s what I did for a few years. But while I was still on the squash tour, I started to write a book to take some of the pressure off of competition. It never occurred to me that this would be my career. Ditto moving to Los Angeles. I’m a Brooklyn kid but somehow, through my ex-husband who wanted to pursue TV writing, we wound up on the West Coast. My heart still belongs to Brooklyn, but now that I’ve been in Los Angeles here for almost 15 years, I feel much more affinity for the West Coast than I do for the East Coast. That is until I get back to Brooklyn and then I feel completely at home.

AD: Being a pro athlete or a novelist sounds like a dream for a lot of people. I have never met anyone like you who did both of those things! What drives you?

IP: People always think that writing and sports are completely antithetical. But I think they’re two sides of the same coin. Both require ego and a whole lot of self-motivation. Also, creativity isn’t just something you see on the page or on the canvas or in fine art or design. It’s also intrinsic and visible in sports. Some of the most amazing athletes are expressing themselves creatively whether it’s on the basketball, the tennis court, or the gymnastics mat (just like Kobe Bryant with whom I wrote two middle grade fantasy novels!) So, for me these things always go hand in hand. It all comes down to having a substantial tool kit. If you’re really good athlete, you can’t just do one thing well. Let’s use tennis as an example. You can’t just hit the ball hard and deep. You also need to be able to serve, change the pace, redirect your opponent. This is the same as writing a book. You might be really good at description, but you can’t describe things forever. You have to make things happen. You have to be able to build suspense and surprise your reader. I just think they’re very much related.

AD: To me, all the ingredients that create you, inside you, are very one and only Ivy. Tell me a little about your parents? Did they inspire you since you were a little kid?

IP: My parents have always been a large source of my inspiration. They are the first readers of anything I write. I grew up in a very literary family. My father was a publisher and an editor. He worked a lot of big publishing houses in New York and then wound up running a university press in New Hampshire and another one at the University of Michigan. My mom (pictured to the right) spent most of her career as a magazine editor with a few stints at major newspapers. She still writes articles for The Magazine Antiques where she was editor in chief for many years. But perhaps more influential on my career, she was the book review editor at The Nation magazine for nearly two decades. I spent a lot of time in her office surrounded by pretty cool leftist journalists and writers. That said my parents weren’t driven career people. They didn’t do business at home and they never expended any energy climbing up any sort of professional ladder. They loved books and they loved writing and they loved literature. They still do. But they didn’t really partake in literary society which I think informed the way I go about my own business. I like to write, but I’m less interested in the awards and the accolades and the social aspect of the craft.

AD: Your newest novel Sing Her Down won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery and Thriller. Congratulations again! You also looked fantastic in the speech and at the party. Can you share a bit about the book and how you came up with the idea for it? 

IP: Sing Her Down started as a bet in a bar over a few too many beers. Could someone—could I—write something close to Cormac McCarthy’s poetically violent epic Blood Meridian but feature women? What happens when we give women the same permission to be ruthless on the page as we do men? Can we only accept the extreme violence of McCarthy’s masterpiece if it is enacted by men?  I was about to embark on a book tour for my novel These Women—a novel about violence against women. So, I’d been thinking about violence a lot, in particular about how we permit women to be violent when they have suffered at the hands of a man. Excuse me for getting graphic here—but it acceptable for a woman to retaliate, to fight back against a rapist, an abuser, or a system of degradation. It’s ok for a woman to be violent if we understand that she is somehow “out of her mind”—if she is psychotic, delusional, or manic. We are especially forgiving if one of these states is brought about by sexual trauma, or to a lesser degree, post-partum trauma. And we are especially forgiving if her violence has been summoned by a man. Then we are, like, “You go girl!” But a woman who is violent simply because she is—a woman like Anton Chigurh, Patrick Bateman, Judge Holden—well you don’t see that on the page or screen because it’s unacceptable. It’s a crime against what we need women to be in life and in fiction—a crime against their maternal natures. If women are violent, it upends the social structure. If a woman is violent then she doesn’t need a man to defend her. The more I thought about this, the more irritated I became. 

AD: What’s your fashion style in short sentence? Do you have anything you embrace more particularly in fashion?

IP: Comfort. I want to wear my clothes. I refuse to let them wear me.

AD: What’s your connection with Atelier Delphine? You once said Sinead O’Conner’s style reminds me of our brand. Can you share a bit about that?

IP: I’m really inspired by how Atelier Delphine is both wearable art and comfortable clothing at the same time. It’s edgy but also feminine. It’s utilitarian but also elevated. And that’s how I like to think of myself. I don’t personally care for fashion that is overwhelming or domineering. I like things that are functional but also unusual. At AD, you produce some clothes that remind me of old-school rave style and some clothes that remind me of outstanding Japanese architecture. And I think that’s where the reference to Sinéad O’Connor came from. She was unusually beautiful woman, but also not conventionally feminine—fierce and fragile all at once.

AD: Our brand is often said to be a pretty versatile brand—people dress it down but sometimes up. I have seen many examples of your styling and they have been inspiring to me when we’ve had the chance to work, or simply chatting on street, or going to a fancy restaurant. How would you describe your relationship between your style and Atelier Delphine?

IP: I absolutely have to be comfortable when I get dressed. It’s the most important thing to me. If it’s a simple sundress, it has to be functional. I want it to stand out, but I also want it to be versatile and useful. I am absolutely obsessed with any form of muscle shirt. I’m always looking for the perfect muscle shirt or muscle sweater. I think I wear one almost every day. I kind of have a uniform of wide leg pants and fitted tops. And anything that slides into that aesthetic is exactly what I want to wear on a daily basis. I also love playing with volume—baggy on the bottom and fitted on top.

AD: Can you share a bit about your schedule? I know you are not on a 9-5 day-to-day, and it is interesting and empowering if you could share with our readers here how you structure your day. 

IP: Every day is different depending on whether I have my amazing nine-year old daughter Loretta, who is the most important part of my life. If I don’t have to take Loretta to school, I try to write as early as possible by 8:30 in the morning. I do my best work in the morning. But if I have to take her to school, I have to take her to school! And if I don’t get back until 11:30 that’s when I write. I don’t write for huge periods of time every day. I think four hours is more than enough for me. In fact, during Covid when I had very little time because Loretta was doing distance learning which gave me less than an hour to write a day. But somehow, I still managed to write a novel. I’ve grown more flexible and more focused as I’ve gotten older. I don’t spend most of the day writing. 3 to 4 hours maximum. So, I have a lot of time when I’m not writing. I used to be a professional squash player and I still play a few times a week. But I spend more time coaching my daughter these days. She’s pretty good. And I love being on court with her. And I love traveling with her to squash tournaments, less because of the squash and more because of the fact that she’s a kick ass travel buddy, extremely amusing, and usually up for anything. 

AD: Any advice for someone who wants to be an athlete? Any advice for someone who wants to be a novelist?

IP: You only have yourself to blame if things go wrong and you haven’t put in the work. You’re not a good writer if you don’t finish your book. And you’re not a good athlete if you don’t push yourself to your limit. These are both amazing pursuits, but they’re only worthwhile if you hold yourself accountable. I know that sounds bossy, but it’s the truth. You don’t have to be the best in the world at anything you do, but you have to do your best at it. And that’s the only advice I can offer.