Calhoun, Dia 1959–

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Calhoun, Dia 1959–


Born January 4, 1959, in Seattle, WA; daughter of James (a small business owner) and Eva Alaire (a homemaker) Calhoun; married Shawn Richard Zink (a cabinetmaker), February 17, 1990. Education: Mills College, B.A. (English), 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Fly fishing, canoeing, hiking, gardening, sopranos, yoga, fairy goddaughter.


Home—Tacoma, WA. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Freelance lettering artist and logo designer.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Phi Beta Kappa.


Editors' Choice designation for Top-Ten Best First Novels, and Best Fantasy Novel designation, both Booklist, both 1999, Silver Medal Book-of-the-Year Award, ForeWord magazine, and Best Book for Young Adults designation, American Library Association (ALA), both 2000, and Young Adult Choice designation, International Reading Association (IRA), 2001, all for Firegold; Books for the Teen Age designation, New York Public Library, Bronze Medal Book-of-the-Year Award, ForeWord, Teacher's Choice designation, IRA, Bank Street College of Education Best Book designation, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature, and Best Book for Young Adults designation, ALA, all 2001, all for Aria of the Sea; ALA Best Book for Young Adults designation, and Books for the Teen Age designation, New York Public Library, both for White Midnight; Book for the Teen Age designation, New York Public Library, 2005, for The Phoenix Dance.



Firegold, illustrated by Herve Blondon, Winslow Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Aria of the Sea (sequel to Firegold), Winslow Press (New York, NY), 2000.

White Midnight, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.

The Phoenix Dance, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.

Avielle of Rhia, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 2006.

The Return of Light: A Christmas Tale, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 2007.


While the novels of Dia Calhoun explore fantastic realms, they are also grounded in the universal issues facing adolescents and teens. In an interview, Calhoun describe her award-winning books Firegold and Aria of the Sea as stories of "heroes journeying to the true self, the true voice, and … seeking the strength to speak with that voice." Inspiration for her well-received fantasies also comes from real-world sources: in the case of Calhoun's debut novel, Firegold, it was the commercial orchard owned by her in-laws in eastern Washington, while Aria of the Sea was inspired by the author's love of ballet.

Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1959, Calhoun trained from age five to sixteen to become a professional dancer with a New York company. She also has another wish for her future, however. "I always knew I wanted to write," Calhoun remarked in an interview on the Winslow Press Web site. "My parents encouraged me in everything creative," she continued, crediting her second-grade teacher with encouraging her to explore storytelling. At age fifteen, an injury ended Calhoun's dancing career, and by the time she was a student at Mills College in Oakland, California, she was committed to a career as a writer. Wisely, Calhoun majored in graphic design so that she could support herself while pursing her dream.

"Fresh out of college, I worked as an art intern in an advertising agency in San Francisco," Calhoun recalled of her years as an artist. "Later, after a few months in Europe, I studied commercial art training at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. I focused on lettering and logo design. As soon as my portfolio was ready, I returned to Seattle and began a career as a freelancing lettering artist." One of her biggest coups during her design career was creating the logo for Alaska Airlines. In her late twenties, with her design clientele established, Calhoun turned to writing, beginning a second career as a novelist.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, her debut novel, Firegold, introduces thirteen-year-old Jonathon Brae, who feels he is different from everyone else. Unlike the brown-eyed Valley folk he lives among, Jonathon's eyes are blue, and it is rumored that this difference marks him as one who will eventually become insane. When he meets a girl with eyes as blue as his own, he learns that she is one of the feared Dalriada, barbarians from the Red Mountains. Then his father gives Jonathon a black Dalriada colt, and the gift changes the boy's life. The colt and the Red Mountains begin calling to him, and dark ridges appear on his forehead. When a blight decimates the local Greengarden orchards, Jonathon is blamed, and he leaves in search of his identity. In the Red Mountains he discovers that the Dalriadas are neither barbaric nor crazy, and he stays with them until called back to the Valley to see his father.

According to Melanie C. Duncan, in a review of Firegold for School Library Journal, "Jonathon's quest evokes a timeless struggle for identity amid vivid imagery, heartbreaking loss, and a subtle weave of fantasy." A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books writer concluded that "Calhoun has created a compelling mythology for two warring cultures, once one but now separate, and the boy who seeks to reunite them." Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor called Firegold a "heartfelt, emotionally trenchant coming-of-age adventure with a lightly mystical bent," and further observed that the author "neatly joins the psychological and adventurous aspects of a boy's journey to adulthood with its more enigmatic side." "This first novel by Calhoun succeeds on many levels," announced a reviewer for Kliatt, the critic listing the ability to create "a strong sense of place" grounded in "realistic" details as among the author's achievements. In Booklist, Holly Koelling called Jonathon "a finely crafted and immensely sympathetic character who draws the reader into his adventures in self-discovery." Concluding her review, Koelling dubbed Firegold a "rich and complex first novel for teens" that "mixes fantasy, adventure, and coming-of-age" themes.

A companion to Firegold, White Midnight returns readers to the Valley and introduces fifteen-year-old Rose. Living near the Greengarden orchards, Rose fears the monster that supposedly lives in the attic of the orchard's main house, the home of Mr. Brae. Ultimately, Rose is betrothed to the creature with the hope that she will bear its child, and she comes to realize that there is no monster at all. Learning the secret long held by the Brae family, and coming to love her new husband, Rose bears a child but is haunted by fears of the future of her Valley people. A "brooding and atmospheric" fantasy, according to Booklist contributor Linda Perkins, White Midnight "questions the nature of such cultural components as family, race, and war, without sacrificing the story."

Aria of the Sea is set in the fantasy maritime kingdom of Windward and tells the story of thirteen-year-old Cerinthe Gale, a commoner from the backward and rustic Northern Reach. The daughter of a sail maker, Cerinthe is torn between her twin ambitions: to become a folk healer or to become a dancer. When her mother dies under her care, Cerinthe is shattered and follows her mother's final wish: to go to the capital city of Faranor and audition to become a royal dancer. Winning entrance to the school despite the fact that she is a commoner, Cerinthe must deal with wealthy classmate Elliana, who becomes her rival and nemesis. Cerinthe also makes friends with fellow student Sileree and Tayla, one of the housemaids. She is ultimately apprenticed to Mederi Grace, a healer rumored to possess magic powers. As Cerinthe gains skill in the healing arts, she must use her powers as a healer to cure Elliana and thereby learns her true calling.

A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Aria of the Sea a "compelling novel," further noting that "readers will remember … the exceedingly well drawn atmospheric setting and the winning heroine." Bruce Anne Shook, writing in School Library Journal, noted that Calhoun's novel expresses its "powerful message" about being true to one's dreams without being "didactic." "Any young adult who dreams of dancing, princesses, and a smashing intellectual career will love this story," declared Melinda Elzinga in a Book Report review of Aria of the Sea, and a Voice of Youth Advocates critic applauded Calhoun's creation of a "strong female protagonist who has a passionate attachment to nature and the sea."

In Avielle of Rhia the fifteen-year-old princess of Rhia is viewed with suspicion because she exhibits the silver complexion, pointed ears, and other characteristics of her Dredonian forbear. However, through her blood ties with the sinister neighboring tribe, Avielle has also inherited the ability to perform magic through weaving. When Dredonian wizardpriests invade Rhia, Avielle goes into hiding as a weaver's apprentice, and seeks for a way to harness her skill to save the Rhian people who once scorned her. Praising the "evocative scenes" that represent Avielle's growing maturity, Booklist reviewer Krista Hutley concluded that the story "Calhoun weaves [in Avielle of Rhia] is rich and complex." A Kirkus Reviews writer noted the novel's "spirited characters and vividly multi-hued descriptions" of its fantastic setting, while Laurie Slagenwhite concluded that Calhoun's "coming-of-age story … should appeal to any girl who has ever felt uncomfortable in her own skin."

Calhoun melds a traditional fairy tale with her original fantasy in The Phoenix Dance. Based on "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," the novel focuses on a young commoner who is apprenticed to a cobbler. As shoemaker to the royal family of Faranor, the girl learns the true reason that the twelve princesses require so many shoes: they are under an enchantment that forces them to dance all night. While the teen searches for a way to break the spell haunting the princesses, she also battles inner demons of her own in the form of a psychiatric condition—bipolar disorder—that is shared by Calhoun. Appraising the novel, Carolyn Phelan wrote in her Booklist review that The Phoenix Dance is "an unusual and readable entry in the growing list of novels based on traditional fairy tales. Michele Winship commented in Kliatt on the author's "skill in reinterpreting fairy tales with a modern sensibility."

As Calhoun once explained: "My favorite thing about writing is the spurt of exhilaration that comes when I suddenly see how an image or idea weaves into the whole tapestry of the novel. I love the moments of epiphany." For the author, "fantasy is a way of talking about serious issues while being removed from them at the same time," as she explained in her Winslow Press online interview. "I hope that young people will be provoked by my work, provoked to think and dream and wonder and change," she added. "After the last page, I hope they go forward with strength, courage, and with eyes in their hearts."



Calhoun, Dia, interview in Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 44, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.


Booklist, May 15, 1999, Holly Koelling, review of Firegold, p. 1690; November 15, 1999, p. 618; April 15, 2000, review of Aria of the Sea, p. 1546; September 15, 2003, Linda Perkins, review of White Midnight, p. 231; December 15, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 45; October 1, 2006, Krista Hutley, review of Avielle of Rhia, p. 47.

Book Report, September-October, 1999, p. 58; November-December, 2000, Melinda Elzinga, review of Aria of the Sea, p. 57.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 1, 1999, review of Firegold; March, 2004, Janice Del Negro, review of White Midnight, p. 264; March, 2006, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 304.

ForeWord, June 1, 1999, review of Firegold.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1999, review of Firegold; September 1, 2000, review of Aria of the Sea; October 1, 2005, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 1077; October 1, 2006, review of Avielle of Rhia, p. 1011.

Kliatt, May 1, 1999, review of Firegold; September, 2005, Michele Winship, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 6.

Publishers Weekly, August 14, 2000, review of Aria of the Sea, p. 356.

School Library Journal, June, 1999, Melanie C. Duncan, review of Firegold, p. 126; September, 2000, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Aria of the Sea, p. 225; November, 2005, Melissa Christy Buron, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 129; November, 2006, Laurie Slagenwhite, review of Avielle of Rhia, p. 130.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1999, review of Firegold, p. 189; October, 2000, review of Aria of the Sea, p. 272; April, 2001, Dia Calhoun, "The Magic Scrap Bag: Why I Write Fantasy for Teens," pp.16-17; October, 2005, review of The Phoenix Dance, p. 59.


Dia Calhoun Home Page, (October 27, 2007).

Rambles Online, (July 17, 2001), Donna Scanlon, review of Firegold.

Winslow Press Web site, (July 17, 2001), interview with Calhoun.