1. Where and when were you born?
Cleveland, Ohio--many moons ago. I will not tell you the year, so please respect my wishes and don't ask. Even if your teacher says you have to know for a report, that is information that I will not share. Tell your teacher I said so.
2. Where did you go to college?
Pepperdine University and Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. I have a Bachelor's Degree, a Master's Degree, and three honorary Doctorate Degrees.
3. What is your favorite "great read?"
Any good book that is so well written that every single word is like a delicious bite to eat.The descriptions shimmer, and the characters become like real people to me.
4. What is your favorite memory from when you were learning to read?
Sitting on my mother's lap listening to her read Mother Goose poems and Dr. Seuss stories. I was reading long before I went to kindergarten.
5. What is one interesting bit of trivia about your childhood?
I used to live next door to a nunnery and I was afraid of the nuns. They wore the long black habits, and I thought they had no feet. They floated. Honest.
6. What are your earliest memories of words and books? What early influences made you become a writer?
My mother read to me even before I could walk or talk. One of my earliest memories is the sound of my mother's voice, reading to me. Her voice, melodic and beautiful, drew images for me in my mind as she read of cats and queens and pretty maids all in a row. My mother would hold me tight and tell me stories. She'd read bright, colorful picture books to me, and even though I didn't know what those squiggles on the page were, I knew the pictures were glorious, and the sound of my mother's voice made the stories magic. She read tall tales and fables and wonderful stories. She read nursery rhymes and poetry. The early rhythms of those rhymes became the background for words I wouldn't write for many years to come. The itsy, bitsy spider climbed into my mind and memory. The p ower of "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" thrummed in my head, even though I was unaware that I loved the power and repetition in those words. It was the cadence of my mother's voice and the rhythm of the repetitions that first fostered my love of books and the magic of words.
7. What were you like when you were a kid?
I was an excellent student in school. I made good grades and I really liked going to school. I had great teachers who cared about me and helped me to learn as much as I could absorb. My favorite thing to do after school was go to the library. I'd check out five or six books at a time. During summer vacation I read about ten books a week. I read hundreds and hundreds of books between elementary school and high school. From all that reading I absorbed not just stories, but the rhythm of words on the page, the development of characters and plot and theme, the best use of language on a page. I did not know it at the time, but all that early reading made me a writer.
8. What was your favorite subject in school?
English, of course. I loved the reading and the writing it required.
9. What did you enjoy the most about school?
Everything. I inhaled books and knowledge. It was fun because I was very successful at it. If schools today would foster more success, more kids would learn and enjoy learning.
10. What were your favorite books when you were growing up?
Every summer our library sponsored a summer reading book club. The names of children who read books each week of summer vacation were put on a chart, and a small sticker was placed next to each name as a book was read. Most children read one book a week, some read two. I, however, considered this a challenge and read as many books as I could. Ten books was a slow week for me. They ran out of room for stickers next to my name and had to put stickers all on the margin and the edges of the poster board the librarians used to make the summer display. I think the highest number of books I read in a summer was 175. The next year they left extra space next to my name. I filled it up. So I can't tell you my favorites. I read them all.
I read all of the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and then all of the books by Louisa May Alcott. Spiced up with fanciful tales of Danny Dunn and his homework machine, a brilliant invention as far as I was concerned, I proceeded to steal from the rich and feed the poor with Robin Hood, run away from home and get lost with Pinocchio and Tom Sawyer, and long for home with Heidi. I read all of Kipling, all the Baum stories about the Wizard of Oz, and delighted in Peter Pan's Neverland, where children were rulers and could fly!
11. Besides reading and writing, what are your favorite activities or hobbies when you have free time?
I like to go to the beach and watch the waves. I don't want to swim in the ocean, but I love to look at it.
12. Which five people - living or dead - would you like to go to dinner with and why?
- Barack Obama. Because he is THE MAN.
- Denzel Washington. Because I respect his work and I think he'd like my books and make a movie of one of them.
- Zora Neale Hurston. What a woman!
- My grandmother Rose. So I could ask her all those things I never did.
- My grandmother Estelle. So I could ask her all those things I never did.
13. If you weren't an artist in this field, what 'regular' job would you probably have?
I would have a talk show like Oprah!
14. What are the occupations of your parents?
Both are retired and living in Florida. Daddy was a maitre'd of a large hotel in Cleveland. Mom worked at the newspaper as a manager in classified advertising.
15. Do you have any brothers and sisters?
One brother and one sister. My brother lives in Cleveland. My sister lives in Florida, not far from my parents.
16. Do you have any children?
Yes, I have four. Please don't ask me any more questions about my family. Please allow my personal life to remain just that--personal.
17. Are you married?
18. What was the greatest influence your parents had on you?
Reading to me from birth. Encouraging me to do my best. Never settling for less than my best. Taking me to church. Teaching me by the example of their lives.
19. What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
Family picnics. Trips to the library in the summer (at least twice a week) Vacation Bible School. Sunday school Christmas--always huge. When I was a little girl, my parents saw me, and my brother and sister, as one of those bright flames of possibility. They nurtured us and shielded us with a protective glass dome so we could burn brightly without wind or cold to threaten me. My mother read to us constantly, so that by the time we started school, we were already avid readers. Mother would quiz us on spelling tests, and Daddy would check our math facts. My mother tutored me through eighth grade French without knowing any of it herself. It never even occurred to me not to do well, not to continue to shine.
20. What was the most difficult time during your childhood/teen years?
I had a wonderful childhood. Full of love and support. I really can't think of a difficult time. It never occurred to me to be a rebellious teenager because my mother wouldn't have allowed it anyway. So I breezed through those years.
21. What were your dreams for your future?
I was probably born to be a teacher. As a child, I taught my dolls, my dogs, and the kids next door. I never wavered in my desires and determination to become not just a teacher, but a really good teacher who made a difference in the lives of children. From my early days of student teaching when I learned that acting out history made it memorable for me as well as my students, to my first teaching assignment where I broke down and cried in front of the class because forty-two disruptive students in a makeshift, renovated classroom did not fit my glossy vision of educational excellence, to today where my seniors wear T-shirts, proudly proclaiming, "I survived the Draper Paper."
22. Did you have any models or idols that you looked up to or wanted to be like?
Besides my parents, teachers were my role models. That's who I saw the most--six days a week. Every day at school and Sunday school as well. Most teachers can probably remember the one teacher who most greatly influenced him to become a teacher. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Kathadaza Mann, a strong Black woman who taught us to be proud of our heritage as well as our capabilities, was an early influence on my love of learning and teaching. Mrs. Mann was strong and powerful--boldly speaking for us who did not yet know how to speak for ourselves. She taught Black history long before it was politically correct or socially acceptable, and loved all of her students, both black and white. From her we learned so much more than math and spelling. She challenged the accepted standards to prove to us we were wonderful, and we believed her. And she read literature to us--Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Dunbar--and we loved it and learned it because no one ever told us we couldn't. She was one of the first teachers I had who taught me to love poetry, music and art, and to read analytically, to think critically, and to speak fearlessly.
23. What kind of a legacy would you want to leave your children?
I hope my children remember me first of all as Mom. I hope my life as a writer or public figure does not mar their opinion of me as the person they can always depend on. I would give up everything if it meant losing the love and respect of my children. I want them to be proud of me because of I was a great mom who also wrote some books, not as a great writer who also was their mom. But they understand me. They know who I am.
24. How do you want to be remembered?
How do I want to be remembered? I'd be happy just to be remembered at all. Fame and success don't last very long. I hope that young people would know that I care about them and that I understand the pain that many of them feel.
Questions I Won't Answer Because They Are Too Personal Or Impolite.
- How old are you?
- When is your birthday?
- What year were you born?
- How much money do you make?
- What kind of car do you drive?
- What are the names and ages of your family members?
Questions I Won't Answer Because You Need to Learn these Yourself.
- What is the plot and setting of the book?
- Describe the characters and their motivations.
- Discuss the theme and how it is developed. (And others like these)