Stanek, Lou Willett 1931-
Stanek, Lou Willett 1931-
Born June 5, 1931, in Vandalia, IL; daughter of William (a farmer and horse trader) and Pearl (McNicol) Willett; married John R. Stanek, September 24, 1960 (divorced, 1974). Education:Eastern Illinois University, B.A., 1954; Northwestern University, M.A., 1963; University of Chicago, Ph.D., 1973. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests:Theater, films, ballet, speaking to students and reading from her work, reading, travel, friends, water sports, gardening, classical music.
Freelance writer. United Air Lines, Chicago, IL, stewardess, 1956-60; Bowen High School, Chicago, English teacher, 1960-67; Demonstration Center for Gifted, Chicago, director, 1967-69; University of Chicago, director of English and educational graduate programs, 1969-74; Marymount Manhattan College, New York, NY, director of women in management, 1974-76, 1982—; Philip Morris, New York, NY, director of training and executive development, 1976-82; New School, New York, NY, writing teacher. Millikin University, Decatur, IL, trustee, 1981—; Ronald House, board member.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN.
Outstanding Alumni Award, Eastern Illinois University, 1981; Children's Choice citation, International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1983, and Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year citation, 1987, both for Megan's Beat; Woodward Park School Annual Book Award, 1985, forGleanings.
Megan's Beat (young adult novel), Dial (New York, NY), 1983.
Gleanings (young adult novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
What Katy Did (young adult novel), Avon (New York, NY), 1991.
Whole Language: Literature, Learning, and Literacy a Workshop in Print, H.W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1993.
So You Want to Write a Novel, Avon (New York, NY), 1994.
Thinking Like a Writer: A Handy Guide to Inspire You!, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Writing Your Life: Putting Your Past on Paper, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.
Story Starters: How to Jump Start Your Imagination, Get Your Creative Juices Flowing, and Start Writing Your Story or Novel, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
Also author of unpublished novel Sam's Girl; author of Censorship: A Guide for Teachers, Librarians, and Others Concerned with Intellectual Freedom, Dell (New York, NY), and other teacher's guides, articles and promotional materials. Contributor to books, including Issues in Children's Book Selection, Bowker (New York, NY), 1973; Books for You, National Council of Teachers of English, 1976; and Doorways,Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987
Lou Willett Stanek once commented: "I was born on June 5, 1931, in the upstairs bedroom of an Illinois farm, ten miles from a library, 3,000 miles from Paris and light years away from any hope of becoming a writer. Fortunately, Mother liked to read, but books were scarce. When she had read everything to me, including stories from ladies' magazines, we made up tales, playing the characters. On that remote farm with no playmates, I was forced to live mainly in my imagination—training to be a writer unaware.
"My father was a horse trader. With my own horse and dozens of others always in our corral, little did I know I was living out most adolescent girls' fantasy. Belle Starr, the notorious woman outlaw who led the Younger Gang, was my childhood personae as I terrorized the countryside with two red-handled cap pistols strapped on my hips. Even today I love Western movies and when I often wear a Western denim skirt and boots around Manhattan, I like to think I still have aBelle Starr stride.
"I was a published writer at thirteen. It was my first job and maybe the best. I certainly learned the power of the press. The editor of the local, weekly newspaper, the Vandalia Leader, asked me to write a column we called ‘Lou's Teen-Talk.’ That by-line did more for my self-image than the Ph.D. I earned twenty years later, and I needed all the help I could get.
"When I started high school the snooty town kids soon made it plain to those of us who rode the bus we were not to be included in any of the fun. Fortunately, everybody likes to see his name in print. ‘Lou's Teen-Talk’ appeared and like magic I was asked to join the Hi-Gals, an exclusive club formed by the popular town girls. A varsity basketball player developed a crush on me. I was ecstatic until my old and new friends started forcing me into some tough loyalty tests.
"But if you've read Megan's Beat, you already know that, of course. My first young adult novel was such a thinly disguised autobiography I could be sued for plagiarizing my own life. My friends' too, according to the feedback I received from a recent high school reunion where much time was spent figuring out whom the characters were based on. Pris is the villain. No one has ever yet guessed who she is. They all think she was the person who was mean to them when they were young.
"When I went back home to sign books, a shy woman introduced herself to me and said, ‘But I guess you know me. I'm Tom's mother.’ Tom was the only character in Megan's Beat who was total fantasy—a combination of the brother and boy-as-best-friend I never had.
"However, Gleanings, my second book, came totally from my imagination. I have never known a Pepper, Jr., or a Frankie, but I would like to, especially Pepper, a good/bad girl with a lot of spunk. Ideas for books come from strange places. I started thinking about Gleanings when a child, who was all bluff, told me the biggest, most outrageous fib. My character Pepper was not anything like the real child, except both were too proud to let the world know they were in pain.
"By the time I seriously began writing stories, I had been to many strange and far away places. Even though I knew from the beginning I wanted to be a writer, I did a wide range of other things before I found the courage. Perhaps all of the great writers I read at Northwestern and the University of Chicago intimidated me. I was a horse trainer, an airline stewardess, a high school English teacher, a college professor, a business woman. What a gra b bag of experiences I have accumulated to write about.
"The story of how I finally became a writer reads a bit like a novel with a twisting and turning plot. In 1981, after having worked five years as an executive in a large New York corporation, the challenge was gone. That summer I rented a vacation house on the ocean, packed my typewriter and a ream of blank paper. I wrote a book called Sam's Girl, a scrappy girl's testy relationship with a fiercely independent father, reluctant to let her go.
"After much ado and my agreeing to do revisions,Sam's Girl was purchased by a major publishing house. Naively assuming I was launched, I resigned from the corporation and set up ‘a room of my own’ in my apartment. But my editor left, the publishing house was sold, and Sam's Girl was never published.
"Eventually, Megan's Beat was published in 1983,Gleanings in 1985. … I am glad I did not know all of the scary ups and downs writers encounter. If so, I might still be in a career I did not enjoy, still only dreaming about writing.
"Today I live in New York City. In the summer I head for Maine. I love the ocean so much I think perhaps in another life I was a mermaid. In addition to fiction I write for magazines and newspapers and teach writing. I work early in the morning when the world and my ideas seem fresher. By noon, with a notebook in my back pocket, I hit the streets, seeing and listening as a writer where nothing can be lost. I collect words, smells, incidents. Characters sit next to me on the subway, in the movies. I keep in close touch with my nephew Dannon, a teenage athlete in the Midwest who always knows where ‘it's at’ for kids. One page in the notebook lists interesting names waiting to become characters, like Hoover the midget, Skeeter and Peeler—cowboys, hot rodders, ballplayers? They will find their way into a story. When these people begin to talk in my head, they are relentless.
"I own a co-op, have friends, vote in Manhattan. I'll probably always live here. But those voices who talk in my head? They have Midwestern accents. Home is not always where we live."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Best Sellers, January, 1986, review of Gleanings,p. 400.
Booklist, June 15, 1983, review of Megan's Beat,p. 1342; January 1, 1986, review of Gleanings,p. 687; March 15, 1992, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of What Katy Did, p. 1350; February 15, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Thinking Like a Writer: A Handy Guide Guaranteed to Inspire You!, p. 1081.
Book Report, September-October, 1995, Dan Pearce, review of Thinking Like a Writer, p. 53.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1983, review of Megan's Beat, p. 179; October, 1985, review of Gleanings, p. 37; March, 1995, review of Thinking Like a Writer, p. 251.
Children's Book Review Service, September, 1983, review of Megan's Beat, p. 10; February, 1986, review of Gleanings, p. 80.
Children's Bookwatch, January, 1992, review of What Katy Did, p. 6.
Emergency Librarian, September-October, 1993, review of Whole Language: Literature, Learning, and Literacy a Workshop in Print, pp. 47-48.
Horn Book Guide, fall, 1995, review of Thinking Like a Writer, p. 315.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, 1986, review of Gleanings, p. 8.
Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, fall, 1993, review of Whole Language, p. 94.
Kliatt, April, 1992, review of What Katy Did, p. 9.
Library Media Connection, March, 1986, review ofGleanings, p. 31.
Library Talk, May, 1993, review of Whole Language,p. 7; March, 1995, review of Thinking Like a Writer, p. 20.
Reading Teacher, October, 1984, review of Megan's Beat, p. 74.
School Library Journal, October, 1983, Barbara Webber, review of Megan's Beat, p. 173; October, 1985, Marjorie Lewis, review of Gleanings,p. 188; March, 1995, Martha Rosen, review ofThinking Like a Writer, p. 219.
School Media Quarterly, summer, 1993, review ofWhole Language, p. 268.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1984, review ofMegan's Beat, p. 36; December, 1985, review ofGleanings, p. 322; August, 1992, review of What Katy Did, p. 170; August, 1993, review of Whole Language, p. 189; June, 1995, review of Thinking Like a Writer, p. 126.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/(June 18, 2006), biographical information on Lou Willet Stanek.