A couple of years ago, I was in a writing group, and we gave ourselves an assignment: to compose a “Writing Bio.” I recently came across mine, which takes a somewhat “tongue-in-cheek” approach, and focuses on my childhood experiences with books and writing. I share it here, with a few updates, and hope you find it entertaining.
The Early Years–Accomplishments
At seven I was chosen to attend the Young Authors’ Conference at Oakland University. This felt like a huge honor, and a kind of professional validation. I remember dressing up for the day-long event in a new outfit—something tasteful and sophisticated, I think it had a jacket and maybe I even wore a hat although I may be getting it confused with Easter…
Around the same time, I completed outlines for several novels. I kept them in the middle drawer of my roll-top desk. I remember I was still somewhat perplexed by the things adults did, and found it a real stumbling-block, trying to understand their motivations. One of my novels had to do with life on the frontier. I must have been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Inspired by reading Harriet the Spy, for a while I kept a notebook hidden on my person and tried to write down observations of everyone around me. It was frustrating that my adventures weren’t nearly as exciting as Harriet’s. I didn’t see much from the top of the neighbors’ eight-foot redwood fence, other than their pool.
E. B. White. I still read Charlotte’s Web every now and then. White’s writing is beautifully clear, direct and I think, soulful. It was no surprise to me years later to discover he was half of “Strunk & White,” the style guide. You could say he literally “wrote the book” on writing.
Andre Norton. I didn’t know, as a child, that “Andre” was a pen name, and the writer was a woman. I didn’t love all of her books—but I was crazy about Gray Magic, a fantasy story in which each of three children had to perform a task that forced them to face their personal fears. (For one of them, spiders, for another, heights.) The title is out of print. Isn’t it sad that this happens to great books?
Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island was the first book I bought with my birthday money, and I was so young I couldn’t yet read it. I think my mom read it to me until I could tackle it. I bought the Illustrated Junior Library edition with wonderfully dramatic illustrations by Norman Price. Stevenson is a master storyteller. And has anyone come up with a villain more engaging than Long John Silver? Or a character scarier than blind Pew? If you have never read the book, I highly recommend it.
Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book was also on my childhood bookcase. Kipling is another amazing storyteller, and his animal characters are without peer. I especially remember the wise and unflappable Bagheera the panther, and Rikki-tikki-tavi, the valiant little mongoose who saves an entire family from the cobras.
Betty MacDonald, who wrote the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” books. These stories did not impress me even then as great writing—but they were incredibly formulaic, and I remember being dimly aware that the stories were satisfying because they stuck to a tried and true recipe.
Richard Wright. My eighth-grade Spanish teacher read to us from Black Boy every Friday, until someone’s parents complained and he was forced to go back to Spanish lessons. This memoir left an indelible impression on me as I entered my teenage years—“searing” is not too strong a word to describe its effect.
I’ve managed to write a bit of poetry, a couple of stories, and a lot of personal essays. In 2014 I self-published a memoir, The Cottage: Portrait of a Place. But the real accomplishment for me is when someone tells me that words I wrote touched them deeply enough to bring tears to their eyes. That is the writing that makes me feel successful. If a reader is moved enough to cry (or to laugh, or slap the table in agreement), I think I must have got through.
Nancy Squires August 2016