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Karen Hesse

August 29, 1952
Baltimore, Maryland,
United States Of America

Current Home:
Vermont,
United States Of America

While growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I dreamed of becoming many things: an archaeologist, an ambassador, an actor, an author. In 1969, I attended Towson State College as a theater major, but transferred after two semesters to the University of Maryland, where I eventually earned a B.A. in English with double minors in Psychology and Anthropology.

From the time I was ten I thought of myself as “good with words,” thanks to a perceptive and supportive fifth grade teacher. Mrs. Datnoff believed I could be a professional writer some day and because she believed, I believed too. Though I gave up all my other career dreams, I never gave up dreaming of publication. It took more than thirty years to see that fifth grade dream come true. I don't know whether that makes me extremely patient or just plain stubborn.

I have earned wages as a waitress, a nanny, a librarian, a personnel officer, an agricultural laborer, an advertising secretary, a typesetter, a proofreader, a mental-health-care provider, a substitute teacher, and a book reviewer. In and around the edges of all those jobs I have written poems, stories, and books, books, books. The seed for Out of the Dust grew out of a picture-book idea. Presented with an early draft of the forthcoming picture book, Come On, Rain (1999), my writers group insisted I elaborate on why my characters wanted rain so badly. I began researching times when people desperately wanted rain and Out of the Dust blossomed into existence.

I love writing. I can't wait to get to my keyboard every morning. I also love reading, hiking, spending time with friends and family, traveling, and music — both playing it and listening to it. National Public Radio is a frequent companion... the inspiration for The Music of Dolphins came from an interview I heard on “Fresh Air.”

Young readers are the most challenging, demanding, and rewarding of audiences. Adults often ask why I write for the younger set. My reply: I can't think of anyone I'd rather write for.”

Hesse’s critically acclaimed novels include Witness, the story of the Klu Klux Klan's attempt to recruit members in a small town in Vermont in 1924. In the voices of 11 residents of the town, the reader experiences the series of events from many different points of view, in the form of a poetic play in five acts. Kirkus Reviews states in its starred review for Witness: “What Copland created with music, and Hopper created with paint, Hesse deftly and unerringly creates with words: the iconography of Americana, carefully researched, beautifully written, and profoundly honest.” — Kirkus Reviews.

She has also received praise for her portrayal of the Holocaust in The Cats of Krasinski Square. Hesse tells the story of life in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War Two. Food must be delivered inside the Ghetto walls, but the soldiers have dogs that sniff out the hidden food that smugglers bring to Warsaw by train. However, if the dogs can be distracted, then the smugglers can slip the food inside. Suddenly, a young girl and the cats in Krasinski Square are risking their lives to save those behind the Ghetto walls. This is a book that is terrifying and soulful. However, it is also a well-researched, fictional account that is a testament to history and a passionate will to survive.

Karen Hesse lives in Vermont with her husband and two teenaged daughters. Her book Out of the Dust was awarded the Newbery Medal for 1998.