A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
I was born on February 11, 1939 in New York City at Beth Israel Hospital, the first child of my parents, Isabel Berlin Yolen and Will Hyatt Yolen. Because my grandmother Mina Hyatt Yolen’s family, the Hyatts, only had girls, a number of us were given their last name as a middle name to carry it on. So I am Jane Hyatt Yolen, and my brother, Steven Hyatt Yolen, was born three and a half years later. Alas, we are no relation to the Hyatt Hotels, no matter how often I have tried to convince the staffs there.
My father was a café journalist at the time, writing columns for the New York newspapers. He’d been a police reporter before that. My mother was a psychiatric social worker until I was born. After that, she never held another full-time out of the home paid job (though she did volunteer work), but wrote short stories that didn’t sell and crossword puzzles and acrostics that did.
When my father got a higher paying job, being a publicity flack for Hollywood movies, we moved to California. I was barely one. We stayed there for a couple of years while he worked on such movies as “American Tragedy” and “Knut Rockne” (“Let’s win one for the Gipper” Starring Ronald Reagan.)
We came back to New York City in time for the birth of my brother Steve, after which Daddy went into the army as a Second Lieutenant and was shipped off to England for World War II. Mommy and Stevie and I spent the war years in Newport News with her mom and dad, Grandma Fanny and Grandpa Dan. Meanwhile Daddy served as head of ABSIE, the secret radio in London, but was wounded in the buzz bombs and came home a hero. He told me that he’d won the war single-handedly, and I believed him.
Back to New York where we lived on Central Park West and 97th Street until I turned thirteen. I went to PS 93, where I was a gold star kid, writing up a fury and singing with my pals Sue Hodes (who is now a well known painter) and Sue Levitt (who is now Susan Stamberg of NPR radio) and others. I took piano lessons, and studied ballet at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. Then I tested and got into Hunter Junior High School and discovered that there were a lot of gold star girls all over the city. What a shock! I had to work hard just to stay in the middle of the class.
During this time, my brother and I created a newspaper for our apartment. We wrote all the articles and interviewed our neighbors. My mother typed up the copies (this was long before either computers or indeed xerox machines, so the copies were made with carbon copy paper) and we sold the things for five cents each to the same neighbors we’d interviewed. Five cents bought a lot of candy and comic books back in the day.
Two years later, I tested and got into Music and Art High School and was looking forward to starting in the fall. That summer, like the summer before, my brother and I went off to camp in Vermont. I went to the girls camp, Indianbrook, and he went to the boy’s camp, Timberlake. (It’s still a going concern called Farm & Wilderness.) A Quaker camp, it was the first time I got to be involved with the Society of Friends, which I was to join years later. I also got my first kiss from a boy, named Paul Gordon, who also happened to be my third or fourth cousin.
My parents had other plans for us. That summer, without telling us, they bought a house in Westport, Connecticut. Our Aunt Isabelle and Uncle Harry came for us and brought us to the new house. What a surprise! It was a large ranch house set on a couple of acres. A girl just a grade below me, Carol Tropp, lived next door with her parents and younger sister. And off I went to Bedford Junior high for ninth grade, and then Staples High School. I sang in the choir, was captain of the girl’s basketball team, won the debate awards, was News Editor of the school paper, vice president of the Spanish and Latin Clubs … a gold star kid.
I graduated seventh in my class. If I had worked hard, I might have been third. Then I might have gotten into my first choice college— Radcliffe. As it was I was accepted at Oberlin, Wellesley, and Smith. I chose Smith. It was to be a fortuitous choice.
At Smith College, I discovered (again) that all the gold star girls around America were there. I had to work hard just to stay in the middle of the class. But by the end of my four years, I was president of the Press Board, won all the poetry writing awards, the journalism award—and wrote the lyrics to the class musical as well as starred in our senior show, singing a song that got a standing O. I didn’t have the highest grades, but I wrote a book of poetry, many poems of which were published in various small journals like The Grecourt Review, and i.e and the Chicago Jewish Forum.
After college, I moved to New York City and became an editor—writing during lunch breaks and evenings and weekends. I considered myself a poet and a journalist/nonfiction writer. But to my surprise, I became a children’s book writer, selling my first book on a cold February day. My 22nd birthday, as a matter of fact. It was called Pirates in Petticoats.
I love being a writer. I have written over 300 books at last count.
The first man I married, in 1962, David W. Stemple, is the only man I married. He and I have three children and six grandchildren. Alas, he died of cancer in March, 2006 after 44 years of a wonderful marriage. I live in Western Massachusetts right next door to my marvelous daughter Heidi (the little girl in OWL MOON) and her two daughters. My sons live far away with their familes, Adam in Minneapolis, Jason in Charleston, SC. I also have a house in Scotland where I live about four months of the year. The rest of my life is all book talk. You can find it elsewhere on this website.
THE ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY
Born 2/11/39 in New York City. I am told I can still be identified by this picture.
|Parents: Will and Isabelle Yolen|
Dad played the guitar like a ukele and the piano only on the black keys. Mother was a soprano until she lost her singing voice in her 40s. We never knew why.
|Brother: Steven Hyatt Yolen born 11/4/42. Here we are mugging for the photographer on the piano bench in our New York apartment.|
|Jane and Mike Lieber during the Smith College years. He went to nearby Trinity College. We sang together though never really dated. He is a professor of anthropology in Chicago. We are still good friends.|
|Yes, I wrote poetry at Smith College. And could sit on my hair. Well, it was the beginning of the ’60s after all.|
|On graduation day, Smith College, Northampton, MA 1960. I still hate to wear heels.|
Jane in the early sixties, photographs by my fiancee David Stemple.
Family on the verge of teenage and other chasm (1979)
Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple 7/1/66, 2 children
Adam Douglas Stemple 4/30/68 married to Elizabeth (Betsy) Pucci, 2 children
Jason Frederic Stemple 5/21/70, married to Joanne Lee (lower right-hand corner), 2 children
Team Stemple 1999 © 1999 by Erin Grinstead
New addition David Francis
Glendon Alexandria Callan-Piatt 3/30/83
Maddison Jane Piatt 3/25/95
Alison Isabelle Stemple 7/12/98
David Francis Stemple 8/6/2002
Caroline Lee Stemple 5/21/2003
Amelia Hyatt Stemple 5/21/2003
|Team Stemple at full strength|
© 2003 by Janine Norton
Newest additions: Twin girls. Caroline and Amelia
Nana with yet another David
Nana with all the grandkids as of 2002
Some of the men in my life: David, David and Adam
Little girl in Owl Moon with friend
Daughter of little girl in Owl Moon with friend
“Pa” from Owl Moon with friend
David W. Stemple
July 31, 1937 – Mar. 22, 2006
Husband, Father, Papa
Scientist, scholar, teacher
mentor, linguist, bird recordist
“The man who knew everything”
SCENES FROM MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE
My Writer’s Group in 2014
A lot of books, a lot of awards, and a whole lot of love.
In front from left, Leslea Newman and Patricia MacLachlan. Standing in back from left Ann Turner, Corinne Demas, me, Ellen Wittlinger Barbara Diamond Goldin.
Books: over 200
Past President: Science Fiction Writers of America
Board of Directors: Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for 25+ years
Other biographical material can be found at the following sites:
Boyds Mills’ biography of Jane
Penguin’s biography of Jane
Author Jane Yolen’s sense of wonder and love of folk culture imbue all her work with magic. To date, she has produced approximately three hundred books addressed to a wide audience, from preschool to adults. While they include children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, mysteries, animal tales, historical fiction, humorous stories, songs, poetry and even informational books on such subjects as kites, Shakers, the Quakers, and the environment, Yolen is particularly well known for her command of fantasy, folklore and myth. Folklore, according to Yolen, is the universal human language, a “perfect second skin. From under its hide, we can see all the shimmering, shadowy uncertainties of the world.”
Yolen, who has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century, also teaches writing and literature and is on the Board of Directors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). A noted storyteller in the oral tradition, she was a founding member of the Western New England Storytellers Guild, has been a frequent reviewer of children’s literature, was for a time an editor with her own imprint and is a discerning and prolific anthologist.
Born on February 11, 1939 in New York, Yolen was the first child of Will Hyatt and Isabelle (Berlin) Yolen. In her entry in Something About the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), Yolen claimed, “My father’s family were merchants and storytellers (some called them well-off liars!). My mother’s family were intellectuals. I seem to have gotten a bit of both, though not enough of either.”
Not so. Yolen sees her stories and poems as somehow rooted in her sense of family and self. Her childhood was made lively by her father’s adventurous life in public relations, which took her from New York City to California where her father did publicity for Warner Films, and back again. An international kite flying champion, Will Yolen inspired his daughter’s books World on a String (1968), an informational book, and The Emperor and the Kite (1983), a Caldecott Honor Book with papercut illustrations by Ed Young. His painful absence from the family during World War II is reflected in All Those Secrets of the World (1993) and Miz Berlin Walks (1997), books Yolen could not write until she was in her fifties.
Encouraged by her mother’s interest in writing and composing word puzzles, by first grade Yolen was on her way to becoming an omnivorous reader. Raised on tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood, she devoured fantasy and magic, history and adventure, but still had time for music and ballet. After elementary school she won admittance to Hunter, a school for highly gifted girls. There, she continued writing and became more deeply involved with dance and songwriting. She says that among her later books were two inspired by songs: Dream Weaver and Other Tales (1989) by a bad rock song, and Greyling (1991) by a folk song. Her own lyrics frequently appear in her books and she has written many song books, two musical plays and some opera. Some of her songs and song lyrics for folksingers, rock groups and composers have been recorded and a number of her stories are about musicians.
Attending a Quaker summer camp when she was twelve and thirteen made a great impression on Yolen, bringing her a lifelong interest in the Quakers and pacifism. After the family moved to Connecticut, Yolen went to public schools and although active in a Jewish youth group became intrigued by the rituals of different religions, an interest that she often weaves into her fantasy tales, as in The Magic Three of Solatia (1974) and Cards of Grief (1984), a story also impacted by her father’s serious illness. Her hidden, meditative, poetic side was encouraged by a sensitive cousin-in-law, Honey Knopp, whose influence she says can be seen in The Minstral and the Mountain (1967), The Hundredth Dove (1977) and The Gift of Sarah Barker (1981), among others.
Yolen received a B.A. from Smith College in 1960 and in 1976 an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts, where she also completed course work for a doctorate in children’s literature. On graduation from Smith, she worked at various editorial jobs in New York before trying her hand as a freelance writer. After she married David W. Stemple (a computer scientist and ornithologist) in 1962, they lived in New York and traveled extensively in Europe, before David became a professor at the University of Massachusetts. The couple moved north just before the birth of their first child, Heidi Elisabet (b. 1966). Two sons followed, Adam Douglas (b. 1968) and Jason Frederic (b. 1970). Still influenced by family events, Yolen wrote her break-out picture book, Owl Moon (1987), a Caldecott Award winner, loosely based on her ornithologist husband’s birding trips with their children. Now grandparents, Yolen and her retired husband divide their time between Hatfield, Massachusetts and a home in Scotland.
Yolen’s versatility is the stuff of legend; she says “I don’t care whether the story is real or fantastical. I tell the story that needs to be told.” Yolen, who writes every day, is noted for creating tales that combine deep psychological insights with a timeless sense of wonder. Her work is rich in images, symbols, allusions, wordplay and metaphors, and her style is both highly polished and easy to read aloud. Among her highly acclaimed works are The Girl Who Loved the Wind (1972); The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Other Tales (1974), winner of the Golden Kite Award; All in the Woodland Early (1978), a concept book that teaches the alphabet through verses and music; the popular “Commander Toad” series, beginning readers that cleverly spoof “Star Trek”-type adventure; Dragon’s Blood: A Fantasy (1982), the first in her “Pit Dragon” series that combines high fantasy with science fiction for young adults; and Favorite Folktales from Around the World (1988), a collection for which she won the World Fantasy Award.
And Twelve Chinese Acrobats (1995), set in a Russian village in 1910, features Lou, a mischief maker, and his brother Wolf, based on Yolen’s father, and has a “Yiddish taste.” But Yolen’s most Jewishly significant work is The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), a highly acclaimed young adult novel. Combining history with time travel fantasy, the novel transports Hannah Stern, a twelve-year-old girl, from today’s New York to the terrors of a Polish shtetl in 1942, whisking her back as she opens the door for Elijah during her family’s Seder. In accepting the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award, one of several this book earned, Yolen said “There are books one writes because they are a delight … books one writes because one is asked to … books one writes simply because the book must be written. The Devil’s Arithmetic was this last kind.” A Showtime TV film based on this story is now a popular video rental. At an editor’s insistence, Yolen produced a second Holocaust-inspired work, Briar Rose (1992), an adult novel suggested by the actual location of the Chelmno extermination camp in a castle, juxtaposed with the metaphorical story of “Sleeping Beauty.”
Yolen has described her goal for readers in particularly Jewish terms. At an SCBWI Conference in New York, she said, “Reading a good story is like wrestling with angels—you do not expect to win, but you should expect to come away from the experience changed.” When reading Yolen, one does.