Willis, Meredith Sue 1946-
WILLIS, Meredith Sue 1946-
PERSONAL: Born May 31, 1946, in Clarksburg, WV; daughter of Glenn Ernest (a school principal) and Lucille (a teacher; maiden name, Meredith) Willis; married Andrew B. Weinberger (a rheumatologist), 1982; children: Joel Howard Willis Weinberger. Education: Attended Bucknell University, 1964-66; Barnard College, B.A., 1969; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1972. Politics: "Deeply involved in radical student politics in the late sixties." Religion: "Raised a Baptist, currently a member of Ethical Culture Society."
ADDRESSES: Home—311 Prospect St., South Orange, NJ, 07079.
CAREER: Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Washington, DC, volunteer worker for Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project in Norfolk, VA, 1966-67; Goddard-Riverside Community Center, New York, NY, group worker with senior citizens, 1967-68; Bellevue Hospital, New York, NY, recreation therapist, 1969-70; Cuando Community Center, New York, NY, teacher of remedial reading and writing, 1970-71; Teacher & Writers Collaborative, New York, NY, consultant in creative writing, 1971—. Pace University, New York, NY, adjunct lecturer, 1980-85; New York University, New York, NY, special lecturer 1984—; New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Essex County Arts Council, visiting writer, 1987—; Fairmont State College, Fairmont, WV, writer-in-residence, Spring 1999; coeditor, Ethical Culture Review of Books, coeditor, 1998—.
MEMBER: National Writers Union, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Feminist Writers Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Won Mademoiselle's college fiction contest, 1969, with story "The Babysitter"; Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation fellow, 1976; Bernard de Voto fellowship in fiction, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1978; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1978-79; winner of PEN/National Endowment for the Arts syndicated fiction contest, 1983 and 1984; New Jersey Council on the Arts Fellowship, 1989 and 1995; Non-Italian woman of the Year, West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, 1990; Honoree, Fourteenth Annual Emory and Henry Appalachian Literature Festival: "Meredith Sue Willis Literary Festival," 1995; Distinguished Teaching Artists, New Jersey State council on the Arts, 1999-2003.
A Space Apart (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1979.
In the Mountains of America (short stories), Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Marco's Monster, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
The Secret Super Powers of Marco, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Oradell at Sea, West Virginia University Press (Morgantown, VA), 2002.
"BLAIR MORGAN" TRILOGY
Higher Ground, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.
Only Great Changes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985.
Trespassers, Hamilton Stone Editions (Maplewood, NJ), 1997.
Personal Fiction Writing, Teachers & Writers, 1984, revised second edition, 2000.
Blazing Pencils: A Guide to Writing Fiction and Essays, Teachers & Writers Collaborative (New York, NY), 1990.
Deep Revision: A Guide for Teachers, Students, andOther Writers, Teachers & Writers Collaborative (New York, NY), 1993.
Work represented in several anthologies, including Mademoiselle Prize Stories, M. Evans, 1975. Contributor to Whole Word Catalogue #2, Bloodroot, and The Teachers & Writers Guide to Frederick Douglass. Contributor of more than fifty stories, reviews, and articles to journals and literary magazines, including Little Magazine, Commentary, Epoch, Minnesota Review, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Appalachian Journal, Southern Exposure, Ethical Culture Review of Books, and In These Times.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Novels, short stories, articles, and children's books.
SIDELIGHTS: Meredith Sue Willis was born and grew up in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia, home to at least four generations of her family. Willis's parents were teachers, but her paternal grandparents ran a country story and her maternal grandfather was a coal miner. Her writing has ranged from adult and children's novels to short stories and nonfiction books about writing and teaching. Much of her fiction is centered in or has connections with her former home state of West Virginia. "I sometimes think I never would have left if someone would have told me you can be a writer and stay in West Virginia," Willis told Robert J. Byers for an article in the Sunday Gazette-Mail newspaper. "I didn't know it was possible."
Willis's first book, for example, A Space Apart, tells the story of the Scarlin family, who live in West Virginia and include father and son preachers. Writing in the Library Journal, Janet Wiehe commented that the novel is an "impressive debut" and that Willis "is a writer to watch." Her next two books, Higher Ground and Only Great Changes, were the first two in her "Blair Morgan" trilogy and take place primarily in the 1950s and 1960s.
In Higher Ground, Willis tells the story of the friendships Blair Ellen develops as a child growing up in West Virginia. She ends the novel with Blair as a social working living in New York and returning to West Virginia for her tenth high school reunion. Writing in Publishers Weekly, Barbara A. Bannon called the novel "heartwarming, funny, and sad, quite delightful reading." Only Great Changes focuses on Blair Ellen's college years during the 1960s, including her love life and her work as a VISTA volunteer (recalling Willis's own work in the organization). Writing in the New York Times, Allen Geib noted the attention Willis devoted to the ways "in which social reform could affect the lives of both the reformers and the reformees."
It was nearly ten years between Willis's novel Only Great Changes and her next book of fiction, In the Mountains of America, a collection of short stories published in 1994. Willis then turned her hand to two children's novels, Marco's Monster and The Secret Super Powers of Marco. In Marco's Monster, Willis tells the story a boy who believes he has powers that protect him. When he moves to a tough inner-city neighborhood, he puts his faith in his powers (which may be real or not) to protect him. Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a reviewer noted that the "tale of a clever young peacemaker" is "a promising debut." In The Secret Super Powers of Marco, Marco tries to help his friend Tyrone control his anger, a metaphor for the monster inside him. Maeve Visser Knoth, writing in Horn Book called it a "sometimes poignant story" that contains "a great deal of action." Commenting on her Marco books, Willis once said, "Sometimes when I visit a school, a little boy who has read the Marco books will be disappointed that the writer is a middle-aged lady, but I always said that the best part of writing is that you are allowed to be things and do things you wouldn't be able to experience otherwise."
In 1997, the third installment of the Blair Ellen trilogy was published. Trespassers, like the other two books in the trilogy, has many plot elements that mirror Willis's life. Now in New York City, Blair becomes involved in political and anti-war protests at Columbia University while working at Bellevue Hospital (where the author also once worked). It is at her job that Blair talks most freely with a paralyzed man about world affairs and her experience in love. Writing in the Washington Times, reviewer Carol Herman noted that this "final volume in Meredith Sue Willis's luminous Blair Morgan trilogy brings its West Virginia-born heroine to the brink of adulthood and to the epicenter of her generation's rage.... Miss Willis sustains a reader's attention in this book and throughout the trilogy."
"I'm always working on two or three things at once," Willis stated in a Technology in the Mountains article. Willis, who now lives in South Orange, New Jersey, also said, "It's not unusual to be asked which work is my favorite. I always answer that I love the book that I'm working on. As I get older and I go back to earlier novels, I'm very gratified that I still like them."
The author once told CA: "I have done a lot of odd jobs in my life and I value these very highly. I have worked with wheelchair patients, been a disc jockey for a college radio station, and given workshops for teachers and students of all ages in creative writing. I participated passionately in many demonstrations and sit-ins, worked in a recycling center, and wrote painstaking letters in Spanish to dictators and other unsavory characters for Amnesty International.
"Since moving to New Jersey, I've been active in the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County, a religious and educational institution, and in the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, an organization for intentional integration that is stable and continuing. My happiest times are when personal life and political commitment come together in fiction writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Appalachian Journal, Volume 14, 1986, Ken Sullivan, "Gradual Changes: Meredith Sue Willis and the New Appalachian Fiction," pp. 38-45.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, review of In the Mountains of America, p. 28.
Book Report, November, 1990, review of Blazing Pencils, p. 39.
Contemporary Education, summer, 1986, review of Personal Fiction Writing, p. 204.
Curriculum Review, November, 1994, review of Personal Fiction Writing, p. 13.
Horn Book, September-October, 1994, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of The Secret Super Powers of Marco, p. 592; January-February, 1997, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Marco's Monster, p. 71.
Instructor Magazine, April, 1997, review of Marco'sMonster, p. 27.
Iron Mountain Review (Meredith Sue Willis issue), spring, 1996.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1979, review of A SpaceApart, p. 352; August 15, 1981, review of Higher Ground, p. 1012; June 15, 1994; June 15, 1994, review of The Secret Super Powers of Marco, p. 853; July 1, 1994, review of In the Mountains of America, p. 885.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 1994, review of Deep Revision, p. 25.
Library Journal, April 15, 1979, Janet Wiehe, review of A Space Apart, p. 978.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 14, 1985.
Nation, December 26, 1994, review of In the Mountains of America, p. 816.
Newsday, February 3, 1985, "Leslie Hanscom, Looking Back upon a Summer in Vista: Leslie Hanscom talks with Meredith Sue Willis," p. 18.
New York Times Book Review, February 10, 1985, Alan Greb, review of Only Great Changes, p. 24; November 6, 1994, review of In the Mountains of America, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, April 2, 1979, Barbara A. Bannon, review of A Space Apart, p. 69; September 4, 1981, Barbara A. Bannon, review of Higher Ground, p. 47; July 25, 1994, review of In the Mountains of America, p. 47; review of The Secret Super Powers of Marco, p. 78.
Radical History, January, 1998, Barbara Melosh, "Historical Memory in Fiction: The Civil Rights Movement in Three Novels," pp. 64-76.
Sunday Gazette-Mail, March 31, 2002, Robert J. Byers, "Power of the Press."
Washington Times, March 15, 1998, Carol Herman, "Inside Account of a Tumultuous Time," review of Trespassers, p. B7.
Technology in the Mountains,http://www.wvhtf.org/ (April 12, 1999), "Meredith Sue Willis Returns to State."
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, http://athena.english.vt.edu/ (May 21, 2002), Thomas Rau, "Meredith Sue Willis."