Durbin, William 1951–

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DURBIN, William 1951–


Born February 17, 1951, in Minneapolis, MN; son of Charles (a barber) and Dona (a bookkeeper) Durbin; married October 14, 1971; wife's name Barbara (a teacher); children: Jessica Durbin Froehle, Reid. Education: St. Cloud State University, B.S., 1973; Middlebury College, M.A. 1987. Hobbies and other interests: Golf, canoeing.


Home and Office—Tower, MN. Agent—Barbara Markowitz, 1505 Hill Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90041. E-mail[email protected].


Writer and educator. Teacher of English in Minnesota public schools, grades four through college, including at Cook High School. Speaker at writing conferences and at schools and libraries; supervisor for writing research projects for National Council of Teachers of English, Middlebury College, and Bingham Trust for Charity.


National Education Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Children's Literature Network.


Great Lakes Booksellers Association Book Award, Minnesota Book Award, Bank Street College Children's Book-of-the-Year designation, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen-Age selection, all 1998; New River Press Poetry Competition finalist; Lake Superior Contemporary Writer's Series winner; Jefferson Cup Series of Note Award; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio award; Northeast Minnesota Book Award finalist.


The Broken Blade, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.

Tiger Woods (biography; "Golf Legends" and "Black Americans of Achievement" series), Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

Arnold Palmer (biography; "Golf Legends" series), Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

Wintering (sequel to The Broken Blade), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.

The Song of Sampo Lake, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Blackwater Ben, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Darkest Evening, Orchard (New York, NY), 2004.

El Lector, Wendy Lamb (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of poems, essays, and short stories to periodicals, including English Journal, Great River Review, Milkweed Chronicle, Confrontation, North American Mentor, Canadian Author and Bookman, Boys Life, Loonfeather, Modern Haiku, Nebraska Language Arts Bulletin, Breadloaf News, and NCTE.

Durbin's books have been translated into several languages, including Italian, and have been produced in Braille editions.

"my name is america" series

The Journal of Sean Sullivan, a Transcontinental Railroad Worker: Nebraska and Points West, 1867, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

The Journal of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish Immigrant: Hibbing, Minnesota, 1905, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

The Journal of C.J. Jackson, a Dust Bowl Migrant: Oklahoma to California, 1935, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.


The Broken Blade was adapted as a cartoon serial published in Boys' Life magazine.


Making his home on the shores of Minnesota's Lake Vermilion, author and teacher William Durbin shares his enthusiasm and interests in history, golf, and canoeing in the pages of his books for young readers. In addition to biographies of golfing greats Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, he has penned a number of works of historical fiction that have been praised by reviewers. Durbin's home in Minnesota provides inspiration for many of his titles.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1951, Durbin attended St. Cloud University before earning his master's degree at Middlebury College and spending a year at Lincoln College, Oxford on a scholarship from the school's Bread Loaf School of English. Trained as a teacher, he worked for decades as a teacher and mentor to writers at Bread Loaf as well as for those students participating in writing projects sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. Durbin was inspired to begin writing for young adults after speaking to author Gary Paulson during the award-winning young-adult writer's workshop appearance at Durbin's wife's school.

Durbin's first book, The Broken Blade, was inspired by his interest in the French voyageur fur traders, men who canoed the waters of the northern Midwest and Canada during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the book, which takes place in 1800, Pierre LaPage's father supports his family as an oarsman for the North West Fur Company on the long, heavy voyageur canoes used by fur traders to transport pelts out of the wilderness of northern Canada. When his father is unable to make the trip after severing his thumb in an accident, thirteen-year-old Pierre leaves school, determined to take his father's place. The 1,200-mile trip from Montreal to Grand Portage requires incredible physical strength and fortitude, and ultimately tests the character of Durbin's young protagonist. Noting that the writer fills his novel with action and describes in vivid detail the events that "transform … Pierre from classroom-softened boy to hard-muscled man," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Elizabeth Bush added that The Broken Blade "should appeal to reluctant readers as well as adventure buffs." Dubbing the book "an impressive coming-of-age tale," a Kirkus Reviews critic added that "readers will embrace … [Pierre's] path to true bravery, strength of character, and self-reliance."

In Wintering, Pierre once again leaves his home in Montreal, this time heading north into the Canadian wilds to work at the fur company's winter camp. There he learns how to survive the region's brutal conditions with help from the native Ojibwa people. A confrontation with the death of two close friends, as well as with the hardships of daily life in the wilderness, allow for a continuation of the coming-of-age theme established in The Broken Blade, according to critic Susan Dove Lempke. Lempke also noted in her Booklist review that Durbin's use of period journals and diaries "gives the novel an authentic feel but doesn't overshadow the unfolding story of Pierre's growth and maturation." Dubbing Wintering an "engaging sequel," a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel as "well-written and atmospheric" and packed with "plenty of facts" about how the Native Americans of the Great Lakes region lived.

Durbin's stand-alone historical novel The Song of Sampo Lake takes place at the turn of the twentieth century, as a Finnish farming family makes their new home in the author's home state of Minnesota. Matti, whose achievements are constantly overshadowed in the eyes of his father by those of his older brother, works as a store clerk and teaches English at the local one-room schoolhouse in addition to working on the family farm. Writing about the novel on his home page, Durbin commented that while he did much of his research for all three of his early novels, "the 1900 setting of the book also allowed me to interview many people who had vivid memories of their family homesteads." Michael Cart, writing in Booklist, considered the novel "a rich introduction to both an important aspect of the American experience and a memorable and immensely likable family." As School Library Journal critic Carol A. Edwards noted, "Durbin keeps the pace moving, and the events unfold in a compelling fashion," while Paula Rohrlick wrote in Kliatt is that Durbin's inclusion of "the many details … of what it takes to survive in a harsh land and climate make homesteading and history come alive."

Taking place in the same era as The Song of Sampo Lake, Blackwater Ben follows Ben's quest to learn more about his dead mother from his still-grieving father. He follows his father to a logging camp in northern Minnesota, and there meets others who can help him with his quest for understanding. As Ben learns more about his family, he begins to appreciate his reserved father. "Vivid and often quite funny, the book is a lively read," wrote Carol A. Edwards in School Library Journal, while Rohrlick wrote that "the colorful characters, practical jokes, and well-researched details … provide entertaining reading."

Drawing readers back to the mid-twentieth century, The Darkest Evening follows a Minnesota family who move from their Finnish mining community and travel to an advertised utopia in the Soviet Union. Teen narrator Jake is suspicious about the situation from the very beginning, and when they arrive in the communist country and find anything but a utopia waiting for them, Jake's suspicions only grow. When his older brother and father are both taken into custody by the KGB (the Soviet secret police), Jake leads the rest of his family on a mad ski run across the Soviet border to Finland. "Durbin's historical fiction is every bit as exciting as the best adventure tale," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Jennifer Mattson, reviewing the novel for Booklist, maintained that "readers who enjoy tales of courage under fire … will find this exciting stuff."

El Lector takes place far from the chilly reaches of Minnesota; it is set in the Cuban-American community of Ybor City, Florida, during the Great Depression. Durbin's novel tells the story of thirteen-year-old Bella, who wants nothing more than to become a reader for the men who work in the cigar factories, the same job held by her grandfather. However, because their family is poor, Bella has to take a job rather than finish school. When her grandfather is replaced by a radio because the factory owners want to stop their workers from unionizing, Bella struggles to find a way to fulfill her dream. "It is Bella's integrity that will appeal to most readers," Mattson wrote in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor considered the novel an "engaging story," and School Library Journal critic Caitlin Augusta commented that in El Lector "Durbin succeeds admirably in creating an accessible world rich in detail."

Durbin has contributed several works of historical fiction for Scholastic's "My Name Is America" series. In The Journal of Sean Sullivan, a Transcontinental Railroad Worker: Nebraska and Points West, 1867, he recounts the experiences of a fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant who works alongside his father on the Transcontinental Railroad in 1867. Traveling from state to state across the western territory, Sean records the conflicts he witnesses between the railroad and the Plains Indians cowboys, the discrimination suffered by Chinese laborers, and his impressions of the region's extensive financial corruption. Noting that the book's first-person narrative "focuses on historic details to bring the Old West vibrantly alive," Booklist reviewer Roger Leslie dubbed The Journal of Sean Sullivan, a Transcontinental Railroad Worker "a rollicking, atmospheric journey" into the past.

The Journal of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish Immigrant: Hibbing, Minnesota, 1905, begins in 1905 as fifteen-year-old Otto sails from Finland to America, traveling with his mother and sisters to join his father in the iron-rich lands of Minnesota. Soon working as a miner, Otto finds himself caught up in the early labor union movement. He joins with other workers in a fight for safe working and living conditions in the company-owned shantytowns of Minnesota's Mesabi Iron range. "Historical notes and authentic photos round out this captivating, dramatic view of the past," maintained Leslie in his Booklist review.

Durbin's third contribution to the "My Name Is America" series, The Journal of C.J. Jackson, a Dust Bowl Migrant: Oklahoma to California, 1935, focuses on a thirteen year old forced to abandon the family farm during the devastating drought of the late 1920s that forced many Midwest farming families into lives of poverty as migrant workers. Noting that the novel will provide young readers with a good introduction to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, School Library Journal contributor Ronni Krasnow added that The Journal of C.J. Jackson, a Dust Bowl Migrant features a "likeable protagonist" and "effectively conveys the plight of Dust Bowl families."

In addition to writing and teaching, Durbin lectures to school and library groups as well as at writing conferences. In his talks, he focuses on topics such as how to begin a narrative, how to get published, writing and researching historical fiction, generating ideas through wordplay, and overcoming writers' block.



Booklist, February 15, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Wintering, p. 1061; October 15, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of The Journal of Sean Sullivan,a Transcontinental Railroad Worker: Nebraska and Points West, 1867, p. 428; October 1, 2000, Roger Leslie, review of The Journal of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish Immigrant: Hibbing, Minnesota, 1905, p. 332; October 15, 2002, Michael Cart, review of The Song of Sampo Lake, p. 401; November 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Darkest Evening, p. 582; February 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of El Lector, p. 47.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1997, Elizabeth A. Bush, review of The Broken Blade, pp. 203-204; April, 1999, Elaine. A. Bearden, review of Wintering, p. 276.

Faces, January, 2002, review of The Journal of Otto Peltonen, p. 46.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1996, review of The Broken Blade, p. 1688; December 1, 1998, review of Wintering, pp. 1732-1733; October 1, 2000, review of The Journal of Otto Peltonen, pp. 1421-1422; November 1, 2003, review of Blackwater Ben, p. 1301; November 15, 2004, review of The Darkest Evening, p. 1088; December 15, 2005, review of El Lector, p. 1321.

Kliatt, May, 2001, Deane A. Beverly, review of Wintering, p. 18; May, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of The Journal of C.J. Jackson, a Dust Bowl Migrant: Oklahoma to California, 1935, p. 9; November, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Song of Sampo Lake, p. 8; January, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Blackwater Ben, p. 8; May, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Song of Sampo Lake, p. 18; November, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Darkest Evening, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly, November 11, 2002, review of The Song of Sampo Lake, p. 65; December 22, 2003, review of Blackwater Ben, p. 61.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, November 2, 2000, Mary Ann Grossman, "Fictional Diary Mines the Tumultuous History of the Iron Range."

School Library Journal, September, 2000, Ronni Krasnow, review of The Journal of C.J. Jackson, a Dust Bowl Migrant, p. 220; November, 2002, Carol A. Edwards, review of The Song of Sampo Lake, p. 162; December, 2003, Carol A. Edwards, review of Blackwater Ben, p. 149; January, 2005, Ginny Gustin, review of The Darkest Evening, p. 126; February, 2006, Caitlin Augusta, review of El Lector, p. 130.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2000, Nancy Zachary, review of Tiger Woods, pp. 202-203; December, 2000, Cindy Lombardo, review of The Journal of Otto Peltonen, p. 348.


Metronet Web site, http://www.metronet.lib.nm.us/ (November 3, 2006).

William Durbin Home Page,http://www.williamdurbin.com (November 3, 2006).*