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Leah Goren Embraces Being a Cat Lady

Talking to the creator of Catlady, a collection of essays by inspiring women from Mara Altman to Emma Straub (plus honorary dog lover Aidy Bryant).

by Sio Hornbuckle
March 20, 2022
Leah Goren
Courtesy of Leah Goren

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Growing up, we all heard tales of cat ladies — the lonesome spinsters who live out their days suffocating under an ever-growing pile of hissing fur. We feared the cat lady, and more than that, we feared becoming her. In Catlady, an anthology of essays written by cat women from all walks of life accompanied by whimsical illustrations, Leah Goren shows us there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Goren’s cat ladies are comedians (Noël Wells, Ashley Reese, and lone dog lady Aidy Bryant), painters (Kaye Blegvad), conservationists (Lisa Kytösaho), lawyers (Judy Smith), and journalists (Kelsey Miller). They’re singles, parents, friends, wives, and serial-daters. They’re Emmy nominees and New York Times best sellers. Basically, they’re everything we might want to be when we grow up. 

Goren can count herself among the talents redefining catlady-dom. With three books published —  Catlady, BESTIES, and Ladies Drawing Night — and clients ranging from Kate Spade to HarperCollins, she has established herself as a skilled illustrator with a delightfully distinctive style. Below, she tells us about the process of compiling Catlady.

Leah Goren's art supplies and a painting of cats

Cats are a repeated subject of your illustrations in and out of Catlady. How have yours contributed to your creative process? 

I have two Devon Rex cats, Aaron and Lacy. Over the years they’ve been a calming presence around my studio or office while I’m working, especially during times I’m working alone. One thing I became known for as I began to work as an illustrator were my drawings and patterns of cats. Many people responded positively to these drawings, likely because there are so many cat lovers out there, which encouraged me to keep going. 

Leah Goren's white cat
leah goren's black and white cat

What motivated you to compile Catlady

I started making drawings of cats back when I was in school simply because I liked how they looked — the imagery often felt like it could be symbolic. But there was no real meaning behind any of them beyond being decorative. As my work evolved and I became an illustrator of many things, not just cats, I felt like I should complete the chapter on cats by writing a book about the relationship between cats and women. I wanted to explore the topic from all angles and finally find some meaning for the drawings I had done over the years.    

Aidy Bryant cat lady story
Aidy Bryant in Catlady
Noel Wells cat lady story
Noël Wells in Catlady

Tell me about the creative process. How did the final product come to be?

An illustrated book comes together like a puzzle. First I compiled all the text, then made all the illustrations to go with it, and then hoped it would all fit together once it was designed into the layout. Somehow it worked! 

cat-eye glasses page from Catlady

How did you decide who to feature?

I picked contributors who could speak to a wide variety of topics, from kitten rescue to cat shows, and also writers whose work I loved. To supplement the essays and interviews I added some pages with interesting mini-stories, such as the history of cat-eye makeup or the story of the first cat launched into space. 

Leah Goren Catlady, Emma Straub story
Emma Straub in Catlady
Leah Goren Catlady, Latonya Yvette interview
LaTonya Yvette in Catlady

In addition to Catlady, your customized pet portraits are wildly popular. What’s your favorite thing about custom pet illustrations? 

I love offering the pet portraits because it’s a relatively affordable way someone can commission a piece from me. The paintings are very personal and so they make great gifts. I also often hear how someone is commemorating a pet who died or who is getting old. It’s really touching that someone would choose me to make such a special piece for them.

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Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.