Clark, Clara Gillow 1951-
Clark, Clara Gillow 1951-
CLARK, Clara Gillow 1951-
Born May 22, 1951, in Lookout, PA; daughter of Lee (a farmer) and Naomi Inez (Keesler) Gillow; married Gerald R. Houck (divorced); married H. W. "Dutch" Varrichio, January 13, 1995; children: J. Jay. Education: Attended New School for Social Research (now New School University), 1984-88, Luzerne County Community College, University of Scranton, and University of Wisconsin. Politics: Republican. Religion: Methodist/Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, writing, walking, regional history.
Writer. Wayne County Historical Society, Wayne County, PA, member of board of trustees; member, Friends of Wayne County Library; lecturer on writing to students and teachers.
International Reading Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Children's Literature Association.
Kansas State Reading Circle selection, and Lamplighter Award nomination, both 1993, both for Annie's Choice.
Annie's Choice, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1993.
Nellie Bishop, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1996.
Willie and the Rattlesnake King, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
Hill Hawk Hattie, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Hattie on Her Way, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor of short story "The Clock" to Sing Heavenly Muse!, 1994.
Work in Progress
A sequel to Annie's Choice.
Clara Gillow Clark, author of the novels Hattie on Her Way, Annie's Choice, and Nellie Bishop, often draws on the history of her family and the area where she grew up—rural northeastern Pennsylvania, especially the upper Delaware River valley—as inspiration for her writings. "In telling the stories of my family and region, I have become aware of the importance of each life," Clark commented on the Boyds Mills Press Web site. "The impact of consequences in any single life is, perhaps, more lasting in consequence than any of us can ever know."
Clark decided to write her first novel, Annie's Choice, because of an experience her mother had in her youth: being denied the opportunity to attend high school. As Clark pondered this situation, "understanding began to form like a pearl, and I began to see how choices made in the past had caused an intergenerational ripple," she explained in the Boyds Mills publicity newsletter "The Bridge." "I began to understand who I was, by learning who I was not. I was not middle class, I was a peasant. As I wrote about Annie's life, I began to better understand my own, and to understand how I had ended up on the road leading to unfulfilled dreams—being married at eighteen, not going to college until I was in my thirties—and why it had taken me so long to acquire a skill for writing. And as I wrote, again insight flashed—Annie's story was not only my mother's story, it was my own."
Annie's Choice takes place in 1928 on a farm in New York State where Annie lives with her parents, an older brother, and younger siblings. An older sister has left the farm to live in town. When Annie's eighth grade teacher, Miss Osborne, encourages her to attend high school, Annie is left with having to choose whether she should convince her hard-working parents that furthering her education is worthwhile or just continue helping her mother out on the farm. Annie's decision is then put to the test when her mother becomes pregnant and she is needed at home. In a review of Annie's Choice for Publishers Weekly, Sybil S. Steinberg wrote that "Clark depicts a time, place and way of life with notable style and charm." Sally Bates Goodroe, reviewing for School Library Journal, added that "the book offers some interesting insights into women's options."
In Nellie Bishop, Clark again deals with the limited options available to young women of past eras, and the story is again based on the experiences of a member of her family. The title character, Nellie, inspired by Clark's great-grandmother, is a thirteen-year-old girl living in a small town on the banks of a canal in Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century. Nellie's family has a difficult life. Her mother is a harsh, unkind woman, and her father drinks to excess and gambles, even though the family—which also includes Nellie's younger brother, Willie—has little money to spare. Nellie has sisters who have married and left home, and her parents decide that at age thirteen she too is old enough to wed. They hold an auction among the workers in their town, promising that Nellie will become the wife of the man who offers the most money. Nellie hates this idea and seeks work to support herself, which enrages her parents. Finally, a mysterious man named Daniel Martin wins Nellie in a card game, but he turns out to be a good man who tells her she doesn't have to marry him if she doesn't wish to. He turns out to be "her salvation," Cindy Darling Codell wrote in School Library Journal, and Nellie does marry him, as her real-life counterpart did: Clark reveals in the book's afterword that Nellie and Daniel were her great-grandparents. Commenting on the story's origins, Codell noted that it "is rich with historical detail," as well as "an exciting read with a satisfying ending and a feisty heroine." Hazel Rochman, reviewing the novel for Booklist, observed, "What is most moving here is Nellie's rebellion, her yearning for independence. We feel how very few choices she has; how strong she is—and how lucky."
Nellie's brother, Willie, is the main character of Willie and the Rattlesnake King. Although the book's story is fictional, Willie is based on Clark's great-great-uncle, and the setting reflects Delaware Valley history. Willie has a good life with Nellie and her husband on their farm, but he too yearns for independence and adventure.
So at age thirteen, he runs away and joins a traveling medicine show. Such shows were common in the rural United States in the nineteenth century; they featured performances by a variety of entertainers and commonly featured sales pitches for medicine reputed to cure numerous disorders. The show Willie joins includes a rattlesnake handler, and Willie wants to be his partner. Instead, Doc Granger, who runs the operation, makes Willie his apprentice, an assignment that basically means Willie has to do whatever menial chores Doc asks him to do. Fortunately, the other traveling performers, as well as Doc's own daughter, are friendly to Willie and help him realize his own talents, especially for writing. After Doc dies and the show breaks up, Willie returns home with a new degree of maturity and self-esteem. "This is an excellent coming-of-age story with convincing characterizations and a strong story line," reported Ann M. Burlingame in School Library Journal. Charlotte Decker, a contributor to Catholic Library World, added that while Willie and the Rattlesnake King "is the sequel to Nellie Bishop, the book stands on its own merits.… This is a delightful novel."
Also taking place in the late nineteenth century, Hill Hawk Hattie has much in common with Clark's other books; it is a historical novel with a rural setting that deals with the way family problems affect a young person. This particular young person is Hattie, age eleven, who has left school to keep house for her widowed father, a logger living in isolated New England hill country. Hattie is tough and willful, and her father is quiet and distant, and they do not get along well. Their relationship begins to improve, though, when he takes her along with him to cut down trees and sell the timber. This involves a hazardous trip by raft down the Delaware River, for which Hattie is disguised as a boy. Hattie is an "appealing" protagonist, and the physical hardships and emotional developments she experiences on the trip "make for a good story," remarked Janet Hilbun in School Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Roger Leslie found Hattie "an ideal character to connect readers to the history"; he also thought that Clark tells her story, including the "thrilling rafting adventure," in "beautiful rhythmic sentences." Clark continued Hattie's adventures in Hattie on Her Way.
Clark discussed the source of her fiction ideas in "The Bridge": "I think that I wrote for many years without much success because I didn't have any real ideas. That is, I had no idea which stories were important for me as an individual to write. So, in getting workable ideas for my novels, I first had to learn some hard lessons about ideas before I could tap into my inner wellspring of creativity. Now, an idea can be about anything—a person, a place, or a thing—but in order to take on any real shape or life of its own, an idea must come to intersect with and embody some emotion within the writer. Otherwise the idea, no matter how ingenious or imaginative or unusual, will ultimately fail as literature. This seems obvious to me now, but when I first began to write I didn't know this. I believe that in order to know who you are, you must first come to understand who you are not. Once you determine who you are not, you will have already begun the process of getting to ideas—the ideas that have power, the ideas that are seedpods of emotional truth. So, finally, to answer the question, where do my ideas come from? They come from my heart, the place where ideas and emotional truth meet."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Nellie Bishop, p. 813; December 1, 1997, Linda Perkins, review of Willie and the Rattlesnake King, p. 636; July, 2003, Roger Leslie, review of Hill Hawk Hattie, p. 1886.
Book Report, January-February, 1994, Joyce Whitson, review of Annie's Choice, p. 43; January-February, 1998, Sherry Hoy, review of Willie and the Rattlesnake King, p. 31.
"The Bridge" (Boyds Mills publicity newsletter), 1994.
Catholic Library World, September, 1998, Charlotte Decker, review of Willie and the Rattlesnake King, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1993, Sybil S. Steinberg, review of Annie's Choice, p. 73.
School Library Journal, November, 1993, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of Annie's Choice, pp. 104, 106; May, 1996, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Nellie Bishop, p. 110; November, 1997, Ann M. Burlingame, review of Willie and the Rattlesnake King, pp. 114, 117; August, 2003, Janet Hilbun, review of Hill Hawk Hattie, p. 158.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1993, p. 288.
Boyds Mills Press Web site, http://www.boydsmillspress.com/ (July 24, 2004).
Candlewick Press Web site, http://www.candlewick.com/ (July 24, 2004).*