Ison, Tara

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Ison, Tara


Education: University of California at Los Angeles, B.A.; Bennington College, M.F.A.


Home—CA. Office—Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, Antioch University Los Angeles, 400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, CA 90230. Agent—Emma Sweeney Agency, 245 E. 80th St., 7E, New York, NY 10021. E-mail[email protected]


Writer. Taught fiction and screenwriting at Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Ohio State University, Columbus, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, and the UCLA Writers' Program, Los Angeles, CA; Antioch University, Los Angeles, core faculty in the MFA Program in Creative Writing.


Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, 1997, and CINCH Librarian's Choice Award, both for A Child Out of Alcatraz; Rotary Foundation Scholarship for International Study, Brandeis National Women's Committee Award, Thurber House fiction writer-in-residence fellowship, two Yaddo Fellowships, and the Simon Blattner Fellowship from Northwestern, 2005.


(With Neil Landau) Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (screenplay), Warner Bros., 1991.

A Child Out of Alcatraz (novel), Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1997.

The List (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short fiction, articles, and reviews to periodicals, including Tin House, Kenyon Review, Nerve, Mississippi Review, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and the San Jose Mercury News, as well as various anthologies.


Tara Ison studied literature and creative writing, particularly poetry, as an undergraduate at the University of California at Los Angeles, then went on to earn an M.F.A. at Bennington College in Vermont. An educator and a writer, Ison has taught creative writing of fiction and screenplays at a number of universities, including Northwestern, Ohio State, the UCLA Writers' Program, and Antioch University. Her short fiction, articles, and reviews have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

Aside from a few brief roles as an actress, Ison has focused her career on her writing. She was cowriter of the 1991 film, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, about a directionless teenage girl who finds herself responsible for supporting her siblings one summer while her mother is out of the country when the babysitter dies suddenly and the money left with her for the children's care is lost. But it was Ison's first novel that attracted the notice of critics. A Child out of Alcatraz was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards Best First Fiction in 1997, and won the CINCH Librarian's Choice Award. The novel weaves together a history of the island prison of Alcatraz, and the story of Vivian Goodman, the daughter of liberal Jewish parents. Vivian is trapped in marriage to Arthur Thornton. After Thornton returns disabled following World War Two, he becomes a prison guard at Alcatraz and moves the pregnant Vivian and their two older children to the island with him. The Thorntons' lives, set against the backdrop of the lives of the prison inmates and Alcatraz itself, deteriorate as the book progresses, reaching a low when Olivia, the child born on the island, learns her father has brutally beaten a prisoner. A contributor for Publishers Weekly wrote that "Ison has a gift for framing scenes in a powerfully condensed manner." David A. Berona, writing for Library Journal, found the book has "an uncommonly heartfelt passion that will incite every reader."

Ison's next novel, The List, is about Al and Isabel, an on-again off-again couple who, after their most recent break up, decide what they really need is closure in order to make their split more permanent. They make a list of all of the things they ever intended to do together but had never gotten around to, with the intention of going their separate ways once they've worked their way through the list. Unfortunately, the items on the list soon become a way of punishing each other for their perceived shortcomings.



Kenyon Review, summer-fall, 2001, "The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent: A Fiction Writer Struggles with Nonfiction Tendencies," 105.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2006, review of The List, p. 1094.

Library Journal, April 1, 1997, David A. Berona, review of A Child out of Alcatraz, p. 126.

Publishers Weekly, March 24, 1997, review of A Child out of Alcatraz, p. 61; October 2, 2006, review of The List, p. 36.


Antioch University Web site, (December 27, 2006), faculty biography.

Internet Movie Database, (December 27, 2006), author biography.

Northwestern University, School of Continuing Studies Web site, (December 27, 2006), faculty biography.

Tara Ison Home Page, (December 27, 2006).