Durrett, Deanne 1940-

views updated

DURRETT, Deanne 1940-

PERSONAL: Born February 3, 1940, in Oklahoma City, OK; daughter of David M. (a farmer) and June (a homemaker; maiden name, Capps) Grantham; married Franklin Dan Durrett (an engineer), August 28, 1959; children: Timothy Dan, Joy Lynn. Ethnicity: "American." Education: Attended Southwestern State College, 1958-59. Politics: Republican. Religion:Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Pets; collecting hats, Beanie and Buddy Bears, and Precious Moments figurines; dancing; playing board games and cards.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Kidhaven Press, 10911 Technology Place, San Diego, CA 92127. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Writer, wife, and mother.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (regional advisor, 1989-94).

AWARDS, HONORS: Nonfiction Honor List selection, Voice of Youth Advocates, 1999, for Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, 1999, for Healers.

WRITINGS:

My New Sister, the Bully, Abingdon (Nashville, TN), 1985.

Organ Transplants, Lucent Books (San Diego, CA), 1993.

Jim Henson ("The Importance of" series), Greenhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 1994, revised edition, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Angels ("Opposing Viewpoints" series), Greenhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 1996.

Norman Rockwell ("The Importance of" series), Greenhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 1996.

Healers ("American Indian Lives" series), Facts on File (New York, NY), 1997.

Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1998.

Dominique Moceanu, Lucent Books (San Diego, CA), 1999.

The Abortion Conflict: A Pro/Con Issue, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1999.

Teen Privacy Rights: A Hot Issue, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 2001.

Jonas Salk, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Jim Henson, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2002.

George W. Bush, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2003.

Alexander Graham Bell, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2003.

Arizona ("Seeds of a Nation" series), Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2003.

Oklahoma ("Seeds of a Nation" series), Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2003.

The 1900s, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2004.

The 1910s, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2004.

The 1950s, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2004.

Rattlesnakes, Kidhaven Press (San Diego, CA), 2004.

Contributor to Highlights for Children.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Right to Vote, part of Facts on File's "American Rights" series.

SIDELIGHTS: Deanne Durrett fell into writing by accident. When, in 1970, her husband joined a partnership to buy a weekly newspaper, Durrett began writing a humor column for the paper. Though the partnership dissolved, Durrett continued writing her humor column. She recalled on her Web site, "It was love at first sight! I loved seeing myself in print and then I had a dream!" While writing that column, she honed her craft and began writing children's stories, the first of which she sold to Highlights for Children in 1972. "When I began following my dream, I was told that I would need to write a million words before I could be published. So, I started on my million words. . . . I wanted to be published and I was willing to do whatever it took," she continued. "Before too many years passed, I was selling almost everything I wrote." Her writings include twenty books, mostly nonfiction titles, including biographies, overviews of states, and books on controversial topics in the news.

After writing the middle-grade novel My New Sister, the Bully, Durrett focused her attention on magazines and newspaper articles for awhile. She then turned to nonfiction, making her debut almost ten yeas later with Organ Transplants. "I agreed to write the book because I found the subject interesting, but I did not know anything about organ transplants," she recalled on her Web site, and though the research was painstaking, Durrett was propelled forward by her fascination with the subject and the encouragement of her critique group. This 1993 book launched her career as a nonfiction author, and she has produced as steady stream of nonfiction works since that debut. Although she only attended college for one year, she continued her education by taking college-writing courses and participating in a critique group. Every new book leads her to new knowledge about the subject under study and the writing process. As she shared with CA, she likes to think of this as a personal university of never-ending learning.

Art had been a favorite subject of Durrett while she was in school, so she took particular pleasure in writing biographies of two creative Americans, artist Norman Rockwell and puppeteer Jim Henson. Using many quotations of Rockwell, Durrett chronicles his life and artwork in Norman Rockwell. About the very popular Muppets creator, Jim Henson originally was geared for readers aged twelve and older, while the 2002 revised publication was meant for third- and fourth-grade readers. "When I started writing about Jim Henson, I had seen Kermit and Cookie Monster, but I had never seen the man who created them," Durrett recalled on her Web site. "As I worked, I developed a deep admiration for the man Jim Henson was. He had a dream and he followed it. He believed that learning should be fun. He also believed in family entertainment that reached all ages."

Durrett, who has written several books on the Southwest and Native Americans, has a personal connection to the region. Her great-grandfather settled in Indian Territory in the late 1800s and lived with the Comanches for nearly two decades. As she explained on her Web site, "They adopted him into the tribe, and he established a friendship with the Comanches that lasted long after Oklahoma gained statehood." Born and raised in Oklahoma, Durrett hunted arrow heads in the family's cotton fields. In addition to writing overviews about Arizona and Oklahoma for the "Seeds of a Nation" series, Durrett profiles Native Americans in two collective biographies, Healers and Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers. In Healers, which Carrie Eldridge dubbed "excellent" in Voice of Youth Advocates, Durrett introduces readers to a dozen Native-American men and women who are healers. Some of the individuals the author discusses practice traditional Native-American healing while others, including nurses, a medical school professor, and one of the first Native Americans to earn an M.D., practice modern medicine. In the process, she demonstrates that contemporary and native medicine have long grown up side by side, and provides some "gripping examples" of this situation, noted Christine Hepperman in Horn Book Guide.

Similarly, in the award-winning title Unsung Heroes of World War II, Durrett publicizes the heroic though little-known efforts of a group of Navajos who as U.S. Marines developed an unbreakable combat code that was instrumental in defeating the Japanese forces in the Pacific theater during World War II. Because the information surrounding this program was finally declassified in 1969, Durrett was able to trace the activities of the Code Talkers from the creation of the program to the time of declassification in her "well-written text," to quote Eldon Younce of School Library Journal. Booklist's Roger Leslie also praised the work, judging it "a worthwhile acquisition for both its military and cultural value." This portrayal of an unusual part of American history inspired the creation of the motion picture Windtalker, the story of a Marine who is assigned to protect a Code Talker, with orders to shoot him if he should be captured.

Among Durrett's other individual biographies are those of gymnast Dominique Moceanu, polio vaccine creator Jonas Salk, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and U.S. President George W. Bush. While the subjects of her collective biographies and these "more famous" people might seem to have little in common, they are all people who have achieved great success in their lives. As she explained on her Web site, it is the personal qualities that allow them to do great things that interest Durrett: "I want to know about people . . . the ones who made great accomplishments and those who did little things that mean a lot."

In addition to biographies, Durrett has penned books about the states of Arizona and her home state of Oklahoma, and overviews of such contentious issues as teen privacy rights and abortion. She approaches each new project with enthusiasm. "I never know what the day will bring or who will enrich my life," she once told CA. "Maybe I will unearth a gold nugget of information everyone else overlooked. Perhaps it will add the perfect touch to my chapter or lead to the mother lode of another idea for a book. One thing is for sure, something will excite me. I love discovery and sharing the adventure with my readers." She concluded, "I love to write! Fiction is pure pleasure but nonfiction is discovery!"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 1, 1998, Roger Leslie, review of Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers, p. 481; January 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Abortion Conflict: A Pro/Con Issue, p. 934; November 1, 2002, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Jim Henson and Jonas Salk, pp. 486-487.

Book Report, September-October, 1997, Annette Thibodeaux, review of Norman Rockwell, p. 48.

Horn Book Guide, fall, 1993, review of Organ Transplants, p. 352; spring, 1995, review of Jim Henson, p. 148; spring, 1997, Anne Deifendeifer, review of Norman Rockwell, p. 137; fall, 1997, Christine Hepperman, review of Healers, pp. 398-399; spring, 2001, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of The Abortion Conflict, p. 96; fall, 2001, Mary R. Holt, review of Teen Privacy Rights: A Hot Issue, p. 335.

School Library Journal, May, 1996, p. 138; March, 1997, Pat Katka, review of Norman Rockwell, p. 199; January, 1999, Eldon Younce, review of Unsung Heroes of World War II, p. 138; August, 1999, Laura Glaser, review of Dominique Moceanu, p. 168; June, 2001, Lisa Denton, review of Teen Privacy Rights, p. 168; October, 2002, Shauna Yusko, review of Jonas Salk, p. 182; April, 2003, Kate Kohlbeck, review of Alexander Graham Bell, p. 179.

Seventeen, June, 2003, Seth Mnookin, "Somebody's Watching You," p. 152.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1997, Carrie Eldridge, review of Healers, pp. 200-201; August, 1999, review of Unsung Heroes of World War II, p. 162.

ONLINE

Deanne Durrett Home Page,http://www.deannedurrett.com/ (October 30, 2002).