Tolbert, Steve 1944-

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TOLBERT, Steve 1944-

PERSONAL: Born January 3, 1944, in Inglewood, CA; son of Bill and Marjorie (Robbins) Tolbert; married Sue Hedges (a teacher), January 14, 1978; children: Elise. Education: California State University, Long Beach, B.A., 1969; University of Western Australia, diploma in education, 1972. Hobbies and other interests: "Reading, viewing films, bike riding, kayaking, swimming, walking the dog and waving to the gold fish."

ADDRESSES: Home and office—3 Honeywood Dr., Sandford, Tasmania, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: High school teacher in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1970, Derby, Western Australia, Australia, 1971-74, and Tasmania, Australia, 1975-2001. Author, 1991—.


Channeary, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 1991.

Settling South, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 1995.

Eyeing Everest, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 1996.

Stepping Back, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 1996.

Escape to Kalimantan, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 1998.

Tracking the Dalai Lama, Pearson Education Australia (New South Wales, Australia), 2001.

ADAPTATIONS: Escape to Kalimantan was recorded by Hear-a-Book Service (Tasmania).

WORK IN PROGRESS: Sorata, a novel of an Afghan asylum seeker.

SIDELIGHTS: Steve Tolbert, who grew up in southern California and Seattle, immigrated to Australia in 1969 and, as a high school teacher, taught English, social studies, and Indonesian for thirty years. During his tenure as a teacher, he also began to write successful novels, the first of which, Channeary, has become a staple in Australian classrooms for grades seven through nine. While a teacher, Tolbert strove to make his students more interested in Asia because he believes that Australia must take its place as an integral part of Asia. This interest also permeates his writings, a fact he noted on his Web site: "My stories have strong Asian themes and tend to deal with spiritualism, racism, culture clash and cultural adjustment. I often focus on an adolescent who has suffered some traumatic experience and needs some time and a lot of distance to try to come to terms with what has happened." Ever the teacher, Tolbert supplies study units for his young adult novels upon request at his Web site.

During his early years of honing his craft, Tolbert put his experience in the classroom to good use, as he told CA: "Especially with Channeary, it's helped me with character models and realistic dialogue. I can remember jotting down notes, often in the middle of lessons, when likely ideas, or words cropped up." In researching his novels, Tolbert visits the settings of his stories. Although he uses published resources of research, he finds "the most important research has always been visiting places where I'd like to set stories." To this end he has traveled in many Asian countries, including India, Nepal, Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

In his debut novel, Channeary, Tolbert tells the story of a Cambodian girl who must flee her home when the communist Khmer Rouge take over her village. In her flight for survival she eventually ends up in Tasmania. Settling South, although set entirely in Australia, has a connection to Vietnam in main character Tim's father, a Vietnam-crazed recluse. Based loosely on a real-life event, the story revolves around Tim, who has gone to live with his mentally ill father after the death of his mother. In a dramatic episode, Tim escapes from his father's bush house, fleeing by motorbike south to Dover, Tasmania. While this novel was based on another's story, Tolbert's next novel, Eyeing Everest, is semi-autobiographical and a book that has remained close to his heart. In this novel, teenager Meika yearns for her father, who left Australia for Nepal after her parents' divorce. When Meika's mother commits suicide, the girl searches out her long-lost father.

About his own life, the author jokingly stated at his Web site, "Apparently I cried a lot as a baby and a few months later my parents split up. My father went to Alaska where he has lived a semi-reclusive wilderness life ever since; while my mother stayed to live the big city life." To CA he revealed more tender feelings about Eyeing Everest: "Change the Vietnam War to World War II, Nepal for Alaska, and the story closely mimics my own father's life." In researching the setting for the novel, Tolbert walked up the Everest Track to the Tengpoche Monastery.

Published the same year as Settling South, Stepping Back tells the romantic story of a Cambodian girl, Somaly, who has grown up as a refugee in Tasmania, and of a traumatized Cambodian boy, Keo, who each return to their war-ravaged homeland. Conversely, in Tolbert's next novel, Escape to Kalimantan, the subject is evasion. When Jack's family is devastated by the accidental death of his sister and separation of his parents, the young man attempts to help his father. Because his father is a wildlife enthusiast, Jack persuades him to visit Kalimantan, one of the world's most impressive sources of animal and plant life. In a similar vein, Tracking the Dalai Lama revolves around Jess, who dealing with a tragedy, visits Northern India and Tibet with her father. During their trip the duo meets the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, whom Jess's father, a journalist, was to interview. In her Magpies review of Tracking the Dalai Lama, Barbara James noted Tolbert's portrayal of the uniqueness of Tibetan culture and use of a real-life personage in this "quite engrossing" novel.

Tolbert described his writing habits to CA: "I try to write a few hours most every week-day morning. If I'm 'running hot' with an idea, or some revision, I'm likely to extend the time into the afternoon, or to weekends. But by late afternoon, I have to re-engage with the everyday world: the woodfire has to be lit, meals prepared, the gold fish and dog fed, wife and daughter debriefed, drinks provided." He suggests to new writers: "Write for yourself first," and "quickly develop a rhino-thick skin. Set aside a space on the wall for rejection notices. Always have a good bottle of wine available, and enjoy the moment in every conceivable way if a manuscript is praised and/or accepted for publishing."



Magpies, November, 2001, Barbara James, review of Tracking the Dalai Lama, pp. 41-42.


Steve Tolbert Web site, (June 21, 2002).