McFall, Gardner 1952-

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McFall, Gardner 1952-


Born July 10, 1952, in Jacksonville, FL; daughter of Albert Dodge (a U.S. naval officer) and Joan Livingston McFall; married Peter Forbes Olberg (an attorney), October 21, 1978; children: Amanda Wadsworth. Education: Wheaton College, B.A.; Johns Hopkins University, M.A. (writing seminars), 1975; New York University, Ph.D. (English), 1990.


Home—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and author. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, assistant professor of humanities, 1990-98; Purchase College, State University of New York, lecturer in creative writing (poetry), 1993; Hunter College, City University of New York, adjunct

assistant professor of children's literature, 2003-2007, adjunct associate professor, 2007—. Corporation of Yaddo, member, 1998—, and member of board of directors, beginning 2003. Residencies at MacDowell Colony and Yaddo; participant at writers' conferences.

Awards, Honors

Discovery/Nation award for poetry, 1989; Thomas McAfee Prize for Poetry, Missouri Review, 1987.


Jonathan's Cloud (children's book), illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.

Naming the Animals, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

The Pilot's Daughter (poetry), Time Being Books (St. Louis, MO), 1996.

(Editor) May Swenson, Made with Words, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1998.

(Author of introduction and notes) Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 2005.


Gardner McFall told SATA: "I began writing poems as a child, perhaps in response to the poems my maternal grandmother read to me by Robert Louis Stevenson. My mother encouraged me by asking me to memorize Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem ‘God's World’ in third grade and by giving me books of poems to read, notably those by Robert Frost and Robert Lowell. When we left the Naval Academy in 1960, where my father served as aide to the superintendent, the superintendent's wife gave me a copy of The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer. I opened the book to Elizabeth Bishop's ‘The Fish,’ with a vivid drawing by Joan Walsh Anglund, and immediately felt poetry's power to transport and console. I knew that I wanted to become a writer after meeting Elizabeth Yates, author of Amos Fortune: Free Man, at my sixth-grade book fair at Friends' School in Virginia Beach.

"Because my father was a U.S. Naval officer, we traveled a lot, moving every two to three years until he was killed in 1966 in a sea operations accident. He had returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam where he flew over one hundred missions and was preparing for another tour there when he died. Writing became my anchor during the years when we traveled from place to place, and after my father's death it became a way of locating myself in grief.

"My children's book Jonathan's Cloud is about a cloud which floats into a boy's room and how the boy tries to keep it. When I gave a copy of this book to Elizabeth Yates, she said, ‘Oh, this book is about death, about loss.’ I think she was right, though I didn't realize it at the time I was working on it. All my work—whether poems, picture books, or the opera libretto I am currently writing—is about life's transience and the ways we try to handle it. Writing is one way, and the fact that language ultimately fails, is why I keep writing."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1993, review of Naming the Animals, p. 72.

School Library Journal, October, 1986, Anne E. Muherkar, review of Jonathan's Cloud, p. 163; April, 1994, Kathy Piehl, review of Naming the Animals, p. 108.


Hunter College Web site, (September 15, 2007), "Gardner McFall."

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McFall, Gardner 1952-

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