When I think about my family, my friends, and the work that I get to do, I know that I am lucky. Most of the time, I love my life as a mother, writer, wife, teacher, and editor. Other times, I am profoundly overwhelmed. But I am old enough now to recognize that seasons pass quickly—What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Good Night Moon, Fiske Guide to Colleges—and I know that before long I will miss my grown-up children.
My mother was my first teacher. She gave me a love of books and words. And thanks to the “benign neglect” style of parenting during the late ‘70’s, I was free to bike to the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, Illinois and spend as much time as I wanted among the stacks. Since then, books have been my constant friends. All those years when I wasn’t yet writing, I was reading.
I always wanted to write, but it took me a while to honor that. After my undergraduate work at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, I taught high school English for five years. Although I liked teaching and made some true friends, something was off inside of me and I remembered: Hold on. I don’t just want to teach stories. I need to write them, too. When my son and daughter were young, I didn’t work outside the home and instead completed my MFA at Hamline University. My professors treated me and my work with the care and seriousness we deserved. I am forever grateful to them: Patricia Weaver Francisco, Deborah Keenan, Sheila O’Connor, Carol Bly, Mary Rockcastle, and Larry Sutin. They helped me to become bold and tenacious. My first story was published with The Threepenny Review, where Editor Wendy Lesser was willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. From there, my fiction has been recognized in contests and has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.
Patient, thoughtful editors like Wendy Lesser and those at The Sun Magazine taught me by example. Now, I serve as a Fiction Editor at Redbird Chapbooks, one of the literary ventures launched by friends and fellow MFA grads from Hamline. Like most writers who I know, I have a day job. But my work as a full-time English Instructor at Century College is more than a job to me. Here, along with several of my colleagues, I designed and started a Creative Writing Certificate, which I now direct. The best part of teaching, though, is my students. I am continually inspired by their creativity, determination, and intelligence.
My mentor asked me to create a list of thirty books that have influenced me as a writer. She said to tell the truth, and not to show off, and not to just try to look smart. That is good advice in general, I suspect. Here is my list:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Sheila the Great by Judy Blume
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Silas Marner by George Elliot
Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewitt
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Typical American by Gish Jen
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
I and Thou by Martin Buber
Runaway by Alice Munro
Drown by Junot Diaz
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas, and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater by Sarah Ruhl
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Whether I brought them home on my bike when I was still a child, or read them hungrily while my own children were napping, these books arrived at just the right time. They kept me company or set my mind on fire. Together they represent a chronology of my interests and obsessions, adding up to the writer I am today. And what will my next season bring? Now, I write fiction and essays. Next, I hope to try writing for the stage. So far, my stories have appeared in fine magazines and anthologies. Soon, I hope my collection of short stories will find a good home.
Meanwhile, I parent and write and partner and teach and edit. Favorite past-times (in the middle of my lucky and occasionally overwhelming life) include: coffee dates at home with my husband; irreverent comedic TV shows with my son and daughter; naps; walks with my impossibly faithful dog. And reading.