Baggott, Julianna 1970–

views updated

Baggott, Julianna 1970–

(N.E. Bode)

PERSONAL:

Born 1970; married David G.W. Scott; children: Phoebe, Finneas, Theo. Education: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, M.F.A., 1994.

ADDRESSES:

Home—FL. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and poet. Florida State University Creative Writing Program, instructor. Goucher College, Kratz Center for Creative Writing, writer-in-residence, 2004.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Eyster Prize for short fiction, 1998; Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series winner, Pleiades Press, 2007, for Compulsions of Silk Worms and Bees; fellow, Delaware Division of Arts, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, and Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

WRITINGS:

Girl Talk, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

This Country of Mothers (poetry), Crab Orchard Review/Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2001.

The Miss America Family, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Madam (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Steve Almond) Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2006.

Lizzie Borden in Love: Poems in Women's Voices, Crab Orchard Review/Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2006.

Compulsions of Silk Worms and Bees (poetry), Pleiades Press (Warrensburg, MO), 2007.

Contributor of numerous short stories and poems for literary journals, including Chelsea, Cream City Review, Ms., Poetry, Quarterly West, and Southern West. Poems included in Best American Poetry 2000.

Author's work has been translated into five languages.

JUVENILE FICTION; AS N.E. BODE

The Anybodies, illustrated by Peter Ferguson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

The Nobodies, illustrated by Peter Ferguson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

The Somebodies, illustrated by Peter Ferguson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Anybodies has been optioned for a film by Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies.

SIDELIGHTS:

As a young writer, Julianna Baggott saw many of her contemporaries head for the publishing capital of the world, New York City, to make their mark on the literary scene. After receiving her master's degree, however, Baggott and her poet husband moved to a small Delaware city, where she went to work writing short stories and poetry and began to raise a family. Baggott sought to avoid the literary scene. "I just wanted to write," she told Dirk Westphal for an article in Poets & Writers. magazine "I didn't want to ‘be a writer.’"

The distinction paid off for Baggott. In 2001 at the age of thirty-one, her first two books, a novel and a volume of poetry, were published within months of each other. Girl Talk, which appeared in bookstores just before her collection of poetry titled This Country of Mothers, is a mother-daughter coming-of-age tale in which thirty-year-old Lissy Jablonski, pregnant and unmarried, reflects back to the summer when she was fifteen. That summer, Lissy and her mother took a road trip after Lissy's father had run off with another woman. During the trip, Lissy and her mother engage in nights of "girl talk," and Lissy soon discovers secrets about her mother's past, including the fact that her mother once tried to commit suicide, and that her biological father (and her mother's only true love) is actually the dwarfish Anthony Pantuliano.

Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Abby Frucht found the novel charming but lacking in substance. Although she described Baggott's novel as "clever," Frucht noted that the novel does not lead "to anything truly persuasive." Most critics, however, praised the book for its serious subject matter and the way the author handles this with humor and flair. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel a "touching … story that delivers more depth than its title might imply." The reviewer went on to note, "Baggott's multilayered, psychological tale is told with a deceptively light tone." Jan Blodgett, writing in the Library Journal, commented that the "juxtaposition of stories" between Lissy's present life and her mother's past "turns this first novel … from just a thirtysomething coming-of-age tale into a wise look at mother-daughter legacies."

The poems in This Country of Mothers reflects on Baggott's experiences as a mother and as a daughter. In her poems, Baggott talks both about love and destruction in a manner that seems entirely personal while, at the same time, embracing universal themes. For example, in her poem "What We Didn't Talk about at Fifteen," Baggott writes about the discovery of a drowned girl who was "found naked and raped." The poem's narrator comments, "Didn't each of our mothers warn it could have been us?"

In her interview with Westphal for Poets & Writers magazine, Baggott related that she turned from focusing solely on fiction to writing poetry, in part to explore her feelings after giving birth. "I felt kind of betrayed by the animalness of it, and the physicality of [having kids], and the huge emotion of it," she told Westphal. "I wondered why no one had mentioned this to me."

In her second novel, The Miss America Family, Baggott tells the story from the views of two characters: Pixie Kitch, who was crowned Miss New Jersey and longed to become Miss America, and Pixie's sixteen-year-old son Ezra, an awkward teenager who is trying to make sense of his world after his mother shoots her husband, a dentist. Ezra is then sent to stay with his biological father, only to learn that his father is gay. "Baggott takes family dysfunction to a new level," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, noting that Baggott uses "wit and humor" to explore the failings of a seemingly perfect family. Carolyn Kubisz, writing in Booklist, called the novel "darkly comedic, and brutally honest." Other critics were equally impressed. In her Library Journal review, Karen Traynor noted that The Miss America Family "establishes Baggott's remarkable talent for creating characters who resonate with readers."

As for her own reading preferences, Baggott told Westphal that although she "fell in love with the novel as a form," she loves reading poetry. "If I'm going to get a book out of the library, I get poems," she said. "Poems have the ability to make me read them for pleasure. They demand it. They say, ‘You have to love me.’ Whereas other things don't; I read them because I'm taking a clock apart."

In 2003, Baggott again turned her focus to dysfunctional families, using her own great grandmother for her novel The Madam. Alma Holfer (the character based on Baggott's great grandmother) is abandoned by her husband Henry, and her factory job will not support her and her three children. So, with the help of two other imposing women, she opens a bordello. Baggott's own grandmother was thus brought up in a brothel. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, found The Madam to be a "tale as awesome and menacing as a hurricane," further praising the author's "insights … [that] are galvanizing in their intensity and drama." A Publishers Weekly reviewer was less impressed, however, noting that "Despite its titillating theme and quirky supporting characters, this is a rather standard kitchen-sink drama." A more favorable assessment of The Madam came from Literary Review critic Jena Salon, who called it "a novel replete with honesty and grace." Salon went on to commend the author's sensibility, taking "the reader through the scenes image by image, so that 1924 West Virginia becomes not only a time and a place, but a house for readers to explore room by room."

Collaborating with the short-story writer Steve Almond, Baggott took a literary turn for Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions, a love story in letters between a man and woman, both of whom are in their thirties. John and Jane meet at a friend's wedding and come near to consummating their mutual attraction in a closet. However, they decide to get to know one another better beforehand. With Jane living in Philadelphia and John living in New York, they communicate by writing letters to one another. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, "The episodic results are sexy, funny and touching" in this "quirky epistolary novel." Booklist contributor Debi Lewis felt the letters were "intense and emotional and reveal a dark and sad side to both love and sexuality." Lewis termed Which Brings Me to You a "great story." The Kirkus Reviews critic also had high praise, calling the book a "winner." Similarly, Pope Brock, writing in People, thought there was a "cumulative power in this probing of heartaches." A Publishers Weekly contributor had a more mixed assessment of the novel, referring to it as "witty but self-conscious." However, Beth Gibbs, writing in Library Journal, had no such reservations, terming the novel "a delightful and robust work" filled with "piercing, funny, and emotional" writing.

Baggott has also written novels for younger readers. Using the pen name N.E. Bode, she is the creator of a popular trilogy of novels involving adventure and magical fantasy. The first in the series, The Anybodies, features adolescent Fern Drudger, who does not quite seem to fit in with her family. While they are boring and predictable, she is full of imagination and whimsy. Then she learns that she is actually not a biological member of the Drudger family. The real Drudger child, Howard Bone, is as boring as his parents, and when they decide that the children should spend the summer with their birth parents, Fern finally meets her real father, Bone. She soon discovers that he is an "Anybody," a shape changer who can assume any persona or thing. However, Bone is not very good at shape changing, and he seeks the famous manual, The Art of Being Anybody, to help in this endeavor. Once the property of his dead wife, Fern's mother, the book is also sought by the malevolent magician, the Miser. The resulting "inventive novel" is, according to School Library Journal reviewer Mara Alpert, replete with "laugh-out-loud humor, fantasy, mystery, real-life family drama, and the potential for a sequel." Jennifer Matson, writing in Booklist, felt "the plummy, discursive narrative style will appeal to fans of [Roald] Dahl and [Lemony] Snicket." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly thought The Anybodies was "a scattershot tale that tries too hard to duplicate the self-conscious delivery of the Lemony Snicket books." A critic for Kirkus Reviews had a higher assessment of the work, though, calling it a "witty, sometimes hilarious tale."

Baggott, writing as Bode, took her series forward with The Nobodies and The Somebodies. With the second installment, Fern and her misplaced other, Howard, go to Camp Happy Sunshine Good Times, a summer camp run by the Anybodies. While there, they each attempt to learn the art of shape-shifting. Though Fern is ecstatic at the prospect, conservative Howard dreads it. Soon, however, a deadly puzzle captures the full attention of both children. "Bode neatly and cleverly ties up loose ends," wrote Chris Sherman in Booklist. Reviewing this sequel in School Library Journal, B. Allison Gray felt it is "an enjoyable choice for fans of the first one." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that the author "dishes up a confection that may disorient readers unfamiliar with the previous outing, but is nonetheless rich in mystery, action and self discovery." The third installment in the series, The Somebodies, finds Fern doing battle against the nefarious Blue Queen, who takes the souls out of both people and books. Referring to the plethora of literary references in the book, a Kirkus Reviews critic thought "the series remains a delight for better-read audiences." Writing in School Library Journal, Quinby Frank noted: "This final book in the trilogy barrels along at breakneck pace."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Baggott, Julianna, This Country of Mothers, Crab Orchard Review/Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2001.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2000, Michelle Kaske, review of Girl Talk, p. 621; February 15, 2002, Carolyn Kubisz, review of The Miss America Family, p. 990; August, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of The Madam, p. 1950; July, 2004, Jennifer Matson, review of The Anybodies, p. 1841; June 1, 2005, Chris Sherman, review of The Nobodies, p. 1806; April 1, 2006, Debi Lewis, review of Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions, p. 16.

BookPage, April, 2001, review of This Country of Mothers, p. 8.

Daily Variety, December 8, 2004, Michael Fleming and Dave McNary, "‘Bodies’ in Motion at Par," p. 4.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of The Anybodies, p. 487; May 15, 2005, review of The Nobodies, p. 584; February 15, 2006, review of Which Brings Me to You, p. 143; August 1, 2006, review of The Somebodies, p. 781.

Library Journal, November 15, 2000, Jan Blodgett, review of Girl Talk, p. 95; March 15, 2002, Karen Traynor, review of The Miss America Family, p. 106; March 1, 2006, Beth Gibbs, review of Which Brings Me to You, p. 76.

Literary Review, winter, 2004, Jena Salon, review of The Madam, p. 161.

New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2001, Elizabeth Judd, review of Girl Talk, p. 16.

People, May 22, 2006, Pope Brock, review of Which Brings Me to You, p. 53.

Poets & Writers, May-June, 2001, Dirk Westphal, "Julianna Baggott, How to Be the Next Big Thing," author interview, pp. 32-37.

Publishers Weekly, November 20, 2000, review of Girl Talk, p. 43; April 1, 2002, review of The Miss America Family, p. 53; June 30, 2003, review of The Madam, p. 51; May 24, 2004, review of The Anybodies, p. 63; June 27, 2005, review of The Nobodies, p. 66; February 6, 2006, review of Which Brings Me to You, p. 40.

School Library Journal, July, 2004, Mara Alpert, review of The Anybodies, p. 98; February, 2005, "The Anybodies to Hit the Big Screen," p. 20; July, 2005, B. Allison Gray, review of The Nobodies, p. 96; September, 2006, Quinby Frank, review of The Somebodies, p. 200.

Washington Post Book World, March 4, 2001, Abby Frucht, "Tangled Lives," review of Girl Talk, p. 13.

ONLINE

Austin Chronicle Online,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (May 12, 2006), Melanie Haupt, review of Which Brings Me to You.

Curled Up with a Good Bookhttp://www.curledup.com/ (March 19, 2007), review of The Madam.

Goucher College—Kratz Center for Creative Writing Web site, http://meyerhoff.goucher.edu/ (March 19, 2007), "Julianna Baggott."

Julianna Baggott Home Page,http://www.juliannabaggott.com (March 19, 2007).

KidsReads.com,http://www.kidsreads.com/ (March 19, 2007), Kristi Olson, review of The Anybodies and The Nobodies.

Teenreads.com,http://aol.teenreads.com/ (May 1, 2007), review of Girl Talk.