Jenn Bishop is a former youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She roots for the Red Sox from her new home city of Cincinnati. Her debut novel, The Distance To Home, is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
She is represented by Katie Grimm at Don Congdon Associates
Photo credit: Kate L Photography
THE LONG(ER) STORY
I grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts called Sturbridge, where the nearest big city was a good half hour away by car. The oldest of two kids, I have a little brother four years younger than me named Bryan. My parents didn’t have cable back then (and still don’t, although thank goodness for Netflix), so all I could really watch on TV was PBS. From a young age, I loved reading and being read to. (Though maybe not that Ewok story my Grampy was trying to read to me that day, pictured left.)
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the carpet in my local public library — where I later had my first job as a library page — being read to by the children’s librarian, Mrs. Clarke. But I also liked playing outside, whether it was softball or tennis or just running around with my friends or my brother.
When I had a friend over, one of our favorites things to do was draw. We would sit at the kitchen table for hours, drawing and talking about what was in our pictures. When I look back on it now, I can see that what I loved most about drawing was the stories that I made up about the people in my drawings. I’d draw entire families, giving each kid a name and age and his or her own story. While I eventually took art lessons from a local artist, I never did get much better at drawing (my husband is the artist in our family), but the stories never left me. I had–and still do have–a very strong preference for stories about real people, kind of like the stories I write. I loved Beverly Cleary’s books about Ramona Quimby, Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, and anything by Judy Blume.
In elementary school and junior high, my Language Arts teachers encouraged us to write our own stories. I still have all of them saved in a box in my closet. I promise they were not all about my pet rocks, though the first dozen or so might have been! In sixth grade, I wrote a play about Anne Frank and our whole class performed it for another class.
I wish I could say that I kept writing after junior high, but the truth was that I stopped writing for a while in high school because I was so busy. What I never stopped doing, though, was reading. For college, I moved away to attend the University of Chicago, which is basically heaven for the kids who really love to read and think. One of my favorite spaces was Harper Library, which basically looks like Hogwarts (pictured below.) While I was a student there, on the side I tutored a middle schooler at University of Chicago Lab Schools. She was a big reader and introduced me to all sorts of books. Along with the books I was reading for my political science and film classes, I started reading books by Meg Cabot and Carolyn Mackler in my spare time. Towards the end of my time in college, I started writing again, this time for teens, but I never thought seriously about becoming a writer. I didn’t know any real life writers still, so it was hard to imagine that being a job.
Since I knew I loved to read and wanted to be surrounded by books (and other people that liked books), I decided to get my master’s degree in library science. As a children’s and teen librarian, I worked in public libraries and schools in the greater Chicago area, and later Boston, but on the side I was always writing. Writing and wishing and hoping that some day one of my books could be on the shelf in the library.
The whole time, I never stopped reading. In fact, for two years, I think I read too much. I worked with fourteen other librarians on the American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, where it was our job to make a list of the best books published for teens in 2010 and 2011. While I loved all the reading and friendships that came from talking so much about books, I kept yearning for more writing time and finally applied for the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. For two years, I worked with amazing writers, some of whose books I had read while I was growing up. Elizabeth Partridge, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sarah Ellis, and A.S. King taught me so much about writing and also what it was like to be a working writer. I’m eternally grateful to them, and all of the authors and writers I met in that program, many who are now good friends–and coming out with books of their own.
While I was in school, I found my literary agent Katie Grimm the old-fashioned way (a.k.a. sending out query letters), and after we revised for about a year, she sold my first book, The Distance To Home, a middle grade novel, which is coming out on June 28, 2016.
These days, I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, with my husband, an astrophysicist, and our extremely furry cat, Lilly, who requested that I display a picture of her here, and by requested I mean meowed a lot and maybe hissed. In my free time, I love running, going to the movies, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.
As a debut author, one of the things I’m most excited about is meeting readers at schools and libraries across the country.