Emmons, Cai 1951–

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Emmons, Cai 1951–

(Caroline Emmons)


Born 1951, in Boston, MA; partner of Paul Calandrino (a playwright); children: Benjamin Bradlee Howorth. Education: Yale University, B.A. (summa cum laude); New York University, M.F.A. (film); University of Oregon, M.F.A. (creative writing).


Home—Eugene, OR. Office—University of Oregon, Creative Writing Program, 144 Columbia Hall, Eugene, OR 97403. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected].


Writer, screenwriter, playwright, editor, movie director, and educator. University of Oregon, Eugene, Creative Writing Program, assistant professor. Has worked as a screenwriter, film and video director, film and video editor, and professor of film at University of Southern California and Orange Coast College.


Authors Guild, Writers Guild of America, PEN.


Student Academy Award, for A Man around the House; Matthew Thornton International Prize for Fiction; James Jones First Novel Competition semifinalist; two Edward Albee Foundation Fellowships; Ken Kesey Award, 2003, for His Mother's Son.


(And director) A Man around the House (film), 1981.

His Mother's Son (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.

The Stylist (novel), HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of the stage plays Mergatroid and When Petulia Comes Home. Author of several screenplays sold for production, including Starry Eyes, Bright Boy, Little Bastard, Dad and Lad, The Political Wife, The Perfect Man, and The Mating Season. Author and director of the independent film Higher Aspirations. Has written episodes for the television series The Trials of Rosie O'Neil and 919 Fifth Avenue, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS). Contributor of articles and short stories to periodicals, including Arts and Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture and Portland Monthly. His Mother's Son has been translated into French and German.


Cai Emmons began her career as a playwright. Her plays were produced at the American Place Theater, Playwrights' Horizons, and Theatre Genesis. She received a master of fine arts degree in film from New York University and went on to write and direct the independent films A Man around the House, which won the Student Academy Award, and Higher Aspirations. At the age of forty-five Emmons left the film business to attend the University of Oregon, where she received her master of fine arts degree in creative writing.

Emmons's debut novel is His Mother's Son, which was called "an unusually affecting and memorable debut" by a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. The novel tells the story of Jana Thomas, an emergency room doctor who is married and has a six-year-old son. She seems to have the perfect life, but Jana is hiding a secret from her family and friends. Her real name isn't Jana, it is Cady. She changed her name sixteen years earlier in order to escape her past, which includes a violent younger brother. Jana's son acts like all other boys his age, but Jana sees a violent streak in him. His activities trigger something in Jana and her past comes back to haunt her, which results in her perfect life falling apart. During this time Jana also learns that her brother has been sentenced to life in prison and is dying of AIDS. Jana goes to his side and at the same time confronts the past that has haunted her. "Emmons," wrote a contributor to the Economist, "has an eye for the grating intimacy of small-town life and a fine ear for suggestive metaphors." The writer also described His Mother's Son as an "unusual and memorable" debut. A contributor to Publishers Weekly expressed a similar view, calling the novel "a notable debut, a rich read with a generous, redemptive ending."

In her next novel, The Stylist, Emmons tells the story of Hayden Risley, who works as a hair stylist in Hoboken. Noting that the title might lead readers to think the novel was "a chick-lit-infused bubble of a novel involving lots of girl gab, a romance or two and a happy ending wrapped up in a neat and very pink bow," Philadelphia City Paper contributor Jen A. Miller wrote that instead the book "is a serious work of fiction about a young woman who runs away from a family she never really understood."

In the novel, Hayden has ended up in Hoboken after living in rural Connecticut, where she enjoyed the country life with her sisters. However, whenever their father, a writer, showed up at home, Hayden and her sisters felt the oppression of his overbearing personality and rules. One day, Emory Bellew arrives in Hoboken and joins the staff where Hayden works. Like Hayden, Emory is running from his troubled past and a secret. Hayden likes Emory, but the woman strikes her as odd in some way. As the two come closer together, Hayden discovers that Emory is really a man. Nevertheless, their friendship grows, and Emory ultimately accompanies Hayden to Costa Rica, where Hayden goes to pick up her father, who broke his leg. Hayden has agreed to fetch her father only at the insistence of one of her sisters, who accuses Hayden of abandoning the family. When Hayden and her father meet, it will be the first time she has seen him since she ran off years earlier when she was supposed to return to Harvard.

Hilary Hatton, writing in Booklist, commented that the "potent novel features magnetic characters and complex and compelling secrets." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that The Stylist "is made appealingly complex by the ambiguities in Hayden and Emory's relationship."



Booklist, September 1, 2007, Hilary Hatton, review of The Stylist, p. 56.

Economist, January 25, 2003, review of His Mother's Son.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of His Mother's Son, p. 1492; September 1, 2007, review of The Stylist.

MBR Bookwatch, September, 2007, Harriet Klausner, review of The Stylist.

Philadelphia City Paper, October 3, 2007, Jen A. Miller, review of The Stylist.

Publishers Weekly, October 14, 2002, review of His Mother's Son, p. 62; August 20, 2007, review of The Stylist, p. 45.


Academic Learning Services, University of Oregon Web site,http://als.uoregon.edu/ (July 26, 2008), "Cai Emmons, Mentor," brief profile of author.

Cai Emmons Home Page,http://www.caiemmons.com (July 26, 2008).

Eugene Weekly,http://www.eugeneweekly.com/ (October 18, 2007), Suzi Steffen, "Love, Protection, Loss, Recovery: Cai Emmons' Second Novel Delivers on Several Levels" review of The Stylist.

Mostly Fiction,http://mostlyfiction.com/ (January 22, 2003), review of His Mother's Son.

University of Oregon Web site,http://www.uoregon.edu/ (January 22, 2003), Cai Emmons faculty profile.

University of Oregon Bookstore,http://www.uobookstore.com/ (January 22, 2003), "A Conversation with Cai Emmons."

Writers on the Edge,http://www.writersontheedge.org/ (April 19, 2003), profile of author.