I was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1957 which seemed to me as I grew up to be the luckiest place and time to live as a child. There were 85 children on the block, each block a kind of intentional community, with mothers whose sole purpose was to care for us. Frank Lloyd Wright loved the village enough to design many houses there, and Earnest Hemingway hated the place so much he made the oft quoted remark: “Oak Park is a place of broad lawns and narrow minds.” Oak Park was one of the first communities to develop a plan for integration, so much for Hemingway’s slur.
I wanted to be a ballet dancer and studied seriously downtown for several years. I had big thighs, a big rear, breasts, no turn-out, and no extension. But I could turn on a dime and jump. I wrecked my feet doing point-work and was told by the podiatrist that I should quit if I wanted to walk when I was thirty. That made an impression. I was often the worst in the thing that I loved to do: I was a lousy dancer, I had a weak voice in the choir, and in the theater group, because I couldn’t act I did the backstage jobs: Chairman of the Prop committee, Student assistant, Make up girl. During Arsenic and Old Lace the apricot Danishes for Act II were so delicious I ate most of them, and in my role as a dead body during one performance, I started to laugh and could not stop.
In short, I was ill-equipped to do much of anything. I studied English at Carleton College because I loved the freedom from the horrors of real life that a good book provides. When I graduated I was still unfit for any real profession. I hadn’t gotten into any of the writing programs I’d applied to, and I ended up picking apples in the fall at a friend’s farm in Wisconsin. A few years later I married one of the owners. As I student, my English teachers had told me I had some talent but that it wasn’t practical to expect to make a living as a writer. It was sound advice. I wrote to myself, for myself, and in a deep privacy. My writing was good company, and allowed me the same kind of freedom reading gave me. That I have been able to spend my adult life living other people’s lives has been a great privilege and a luxury. People sometimes ask me what my goals are. Goals? I want to keep writing books, and I want there always to be a world in which people read books.