McGhee, Alison 1960–
McGhee, Alison 1960–
PERSONAL: Born 1960, in NY; married; children: three.
ADDRESSES: Home—Minneapolis, MN. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN, creative writing professor and department coordinator; previously taught writing at Carleton College, Hamline University, Macalester College, the Loft, Vermont College, and University of Minnesota.
AWARDS, HONORS: Minnesota Book Award, 1999, and Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award, both for Rainlight; Minnesota Book Award, 2001, and Pulitzer Prize nomination, Columbia University, both for Shadow Baby.
Rainlight (novel), Papier-Mache Press (Watsonville, CA), 1998.
Shadow Baby (novel), Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Was It Beautiful? (novel), Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2003.
A Fine, Fine School, Live Oak Media (Pine Plains, NY), 2003.
Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth (children's book), illustrated by Harry Bliss, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Snap (young adult novel), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
All Rivers Flow to the Sea (young-adult novel), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor of articles and short fiction to various literary periodicals.
ADAPTATIONS: Snap was adapted for audiocassette.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Some Witches Like Sprinkles, a children's book.
SIDELIGHTS: Minnesota-based author Alison McGhee writes fiction for a range of age groups, from young children to adults. Her first novel, Rainlight, won both the Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award and the 1999 Minnesota Book Award. Her follow-up effort, Shadow Baby, won the Minnesota Book Award in 2001, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in literature. When she is not writing, McGhee shares her skills with writing students. She is both founder of and a teacher in the creative-writing program at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has also taught through a number of other writing programs, including the M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults program at Vermont College.
In Rainlight McGhee tells the story of the sudden, accidental death of husband and father Starr Williams, and how the family and friends William has left behind handle their grief. Not only does McGhee address the impact of his death, but she also illustrates how his life continues to affect the people around him even after he is gone. Margaret Flanagan, contributing to Booklist, wrote that "this heartrending yet ultimately affirmative eulogy is laden with both despair and hope. A stunning debut." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book a "vivid, poetically charged (and occasionally overwritten) first novel."
Shadow Baby, McGhee's second novel, revisits themes of loss and grief as it examines the world through the eyes of young Clara Winter. Clara befriends the elderly Georg Kominsky as part of a school history project, and he becomes a major adult influence in her life. They trade stories of the hardships they have experienced; Clara's twin sister died at birth and her mother refuses to speak of the past, while Georg was forced to abandon his injured brother in a snowstorm on their way to America and never saw him again. At the climax of the novel, Georg is killed while rescuing Clara from a fire, and Clara is able to open herself to the other adults in her life as a result of what Georg has taught her. Becky Ferrall, in a piece for School Library Journal, commented that "Clara's insights bring both introspection and humor to this skillfully told story about seeing and finding the possibilities in life," while Michelle Kaske, writing for Booklist, remarked that "McGhee's work, full of contrasts and transformations, is a strong, solid novel with quiet feminist undertones." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "with a mix of deadpan humor and pathos, McGhee perfectly captures the voice of a sensitive, wise child on the cusp of adulthood, at once knowing and naive."
In the novel Was It Beautiful? William T. Jones, a dairy trucker from the Adirondack mountains, allows his grief to get the better of him when his grown son, William J., is hit by a train and dies. Haunted by his son's death, which he witnessed, William T. draws into himself. He refuses to socialize, rebuffs his wife, Eliza, who moves out following the tragedy, and ignores both his now-widowed daughter-in-law and his best friend, Burl. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that the novel "is gracefully wrought, set against a frigid Adirondack winter that's no match for William T.'s emotional deep freeze." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the work is "skillfully done, but little new, and determinedly sentimental." However, Beth E. Andersen, in Library Journal, called Was It Beautiful? "hypnotic, wrenching, and powerful in its promise of hope in the face of impossible grief."
McGhee's works for children include two stories centered on the same little girl: Countdown to Kindergarten and Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth. In the first title, the young narrator is frightened of starting kindergarten, as she has heard from an older child that everyone will be expected to know how to tie their own shoes, and she has yet to master the task. Over the days leading up to her first day of school, nothing can take her mind off of her fear, not even tying lessons from her father or a favorite spaghetti dinner. Once school begins, however, the child is relieved to learn she is not the only one who cannot tie their laces. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that "In this witty children's debut, novelist McGhee combines a puckishly structured counting book … with an amiable exploration of new-school anxiety."
In Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth McGhee addresses the fears of the same young girl as she moves up to first grade, where, according to the second-grade rumor mill, the teacher has a purple tongue and likes to steal baby teeth. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked that the author "keeps the dialogue crisp, bringing out the sweet gullibility of the first-grader and the secondgrader's mischief-making."
With Snap McGhee turns her attention to a young-adult audience. The novel follows Edwina Beckly, or Eddie, who wears colored rubber bands around her arm and snaps them to remind herself of various things, including to think of her best friend's grandmother, Willie, who is dying of a blood disease. Ilene Cooper, in Booklist, remarked that "the story is pregnant with tragedy, but it's not so much what happens as the way McGhee … writes it. Her writing is precise, evocative, and sure." School Library Journal reviewer Susan Hepler wrote that the book "features memorable characters and a tolerance for eccentricity, emotional subtlety, and complexity, themes of acceptance, of death and love, and a spare and poetic text that begs to be reread and savored."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of Rainlight, p. 1202; April 1, 2000, Michelle Kaske, review of Shadow Baby, p. 1436; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 1974; May 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Snap, p. 1621.
Daughters, January-February, 2003, Alison McGhee, "Refusing to Keep Quiet," p. 15.
Denver Post, March 16, 2003, "Atmosphere Heightens Journey Through Grief" review of Was It Beautiful?
Instructor, August, 2003, Judy Freeman, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 61.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 959; December 1, 2002, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 1723; March 1, 2004, review of Snap, p. 227; July 1, 2004, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 633.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Lisa S. Nussbaum, review of Shadow Baby, p. 130; December, 2002, Beth E. Andersen, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 179.
Publishers Weekly, January 5, 1998, review of Rainlight, p. 57; February 14, 2000, review of Shadow Baby, p. 170; July 8, 2002, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, pp. 48-49; February 17, 2003, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 59; April 12, 2004, review of Snap, p. 66; July 5, 2004, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 54.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Becky Ferrall, review of Shadow Baby, p. 184; September, 2002, Mary Elam, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 201; April, 2004, Susan Hepler, review of Snap, p. 157; July, 2004, Lisa G. Kropp, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 43; September, 2004, Mary Elam, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 173.
Alison McGhee Home Page, http://www.alisonmcghee.com (February 9, 2005).
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (February 9, 2005), "Alison McGhee."
Crown Publishing Group Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/ (February 9, 2005), "Alison McGhee."
SFGate.com, http://www.sfgate.com/ (February 9, 2005), "Alison McGhee."
VisitingAuthors.com, http://www.visitingauthors.com/ (February 9, 2005), "Alison McGhee."