Rubio, Gwyn Hyman
Rubio, Gwyn Hyman
PERSONAL: Born in Macon, GA; daughter of Mac (a writer) and Gwendolyn Hyman; married Angel Rubio. Education: Florida State University, B.A.; Warren Wilson College, M.F.A., 1986.
ADDRESSES: Home—Versailles, KY. Office—c/o Author Mail, Viking Penguin, 375 Hudson St., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10014.
AWARDS, HONORS: Cecil Hackney Literary Award, National Short Story Competition, for "Little Saint"; Kentucky Arts Council grant; Kentucky Foundation for Women grant; notable book designation, New York Times, 1998, Educator's Award honorable mention, and Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, 1999, all for Icy Sparks.
Icy Sparks (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
The Woodsman's Daughter (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of story collection Sharing Power. Contributor to anthology Above Ground: Stories about Life and Death by New Southern Writers. Contributor to literary journals, including Prairie Schooner.
SIDELIGHTS: Gwyn Hyman Rubio's first novel, Icy Sparks, tells the story of a girl growing up in Appalachia during the 1950s. Raised by her grandparents after her parents die, ten-year-old Icy is smart and adventurous. But when she develops mysterious ticks and spasms that she cannot control, the other children call her "frog girl," and she is forced to suffer the pain of exclusion based on a malady neither she nor anyone else understands. Eventually, Icy's condition becomes so disruptive that she is sent to an asylum, where her disease still goes undiagnosed. But the experience causes Icy to understand her suffering in the context of others and to be thankful for what she has. She befriends Miss Emily, an obese woman who is similarly ostracized. Miss Emily teaches Icy the value of education and prepares her for college. Icy further realizes her potential after the death of her grandfather, when she and her grandmother attend a Pentecostal church and Icy discovers her talent for singing. Only later, after she goes away to college, does a doctor diagnose her with Tourette's Syndrome. "Rubio is a writer of uncommonly warm and tender vision, often comic, brimming with love and hope," wrote Tara Bayton in the New York Times Book Review. She called Icy Sparks a "sweet, zealously optimistic story of a young girl who learns to accept and embrace what is most alarming about herself."
Other critics also praised the novel as an optimistic coming-of-age story. Booklist contributor Nancy Pearl called it "a fast-moving and enjoyable narrative," and Judith Kicinski wrote in the Library Journal that "in refusing defeat, [Icy] wins the love and respect of the reader." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "Rubio captures Icy's feelings of isolation and brings poignancy and drama to Icy's childhood experiences." The writer concluded that the book "is remarkable for its often funny portrayal of a child's fears, loves and struggles with an affliction she doesn't know isn't her fault." Icy Sparks won several awards and gained further popularity when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club in the spring of 2001.
Icy Sparks was inspired in part by Rubio's epilepsy, a condition she did not understand as a child, except that it caused her to lose control, much the same way that Icy cannot control her Tourette's movements. "I wanted to write about a little girl who was different," she told Daniel Neiden on the Tourettaville Web site, "who had trouble fitting into [the] community." Still, maintained Rubio, "it's not autobiographical." She was also inspired by a tale from Oliver Sacks's book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which describes a Tourette's Syndrome patient whose disability vanishes when he plays drums for a jazz band. "That got me to thinking about the healing power of art," Rubio said, so she decided to give her heroine the healing power of singing. She told Neiden that she hoped her readers will "learn how to be more tolerant of others [and] embrace those who are different and accept those parts of us that make us special."
Rubio constructed a complex, multigenerational saga in her next novel, The Woodsman's Daughter. Monroe Miller is the patriarch of the story, a man who has made a good life for his family on profits from his turpentine business in Georgia during the 1880s. Despite his outward success, Miller drinks heavily and is inwardly tormented over incidents in his past. His wife, Violet, is addicted to narcotics; his elder daughter, Dalia, is spoiled and troublesome, while the youngest daughter, Nellie, is blind. After discovering her father's secret, Dalia tries to put her family and its tragedy behind her. Reviewing the book for the Library Journal, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman called it "absorbing and atmospheric" in its early sections, though "uneven" in the final two-thirds. The reviewer concluded that despite its flaws, the book is capable of delivering an "emotional wallop." Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley credited the book with providing "a rich portrait of the late-nineteenth-century South."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1998, Nancy Pearl, review of Icy Sparks, p. 1860; June 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Icy Sparks, p. 1838; June 1, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of The Woodsman's Daughter, p.1756.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1998, review of Icy Sparks, p. 839.
Library Journal, June 15, 1998, Judith Kicinski, review of Icy Sparks, p. 108; June 15, 2005, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of The Woodsman's Daughter, p. 60.
New York Times Book Review, August 16, 1998, Tara Bayton, review of Icy Sparks, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1998, review of Icy Sparks, p. 43; March 12, 2001, Daisy Maryles, review of Icy Sparks, p. 20; June 20, 2005, review of The Woodsman's Daughter, p. 56.
Gwyn Rubio's Home Page, http://www.gwynrubio.com (April 30, 2006).
Tourettaville Web site, http://www.tourettaville.com/ (June 5, 2002), Daniel Neiden, interview with Gwyn Hyman Rubio.