McGhee, Alison 1960-
McGhee, Alison 1960-
Born 1960, in NY; married; children: three.
Educator and author. Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN, creative writing professor and department coordinator; previously taught writing at Carleton College, Hamline University, Macalester College, the Loft, Vermont College, and University of Minnesota.
Minnesota Book Award, 1999, and Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award, both for Rainlight; Minnesota Book Award, 2001, and Pulitzer Prize nomination, Columbia University, both for Shadow Baby; Minnesota Book Award, 2003, and Oppenheim Gold Toy Portfolio Award, both for Countdown to Kindergarten.
Rainlight (novel), Papier-Maché Press (Watsonville, CA), 1998.
Shadow Baby (novel), Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Was It Beautiful? (novel), Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2003.
A Fine, Fine School, Live Oak Media (Pine Plains, NY), 2003.
Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth (children's book), illustrated by Harry Bliss, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Snap (young-adult novel), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
All Rivers Flow to the Sea (young-adult novel), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
A Very Brave Witch, illustrated by Harry Bliss, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
Falling Boy (novel), Picador (New York, NY), 2007.
Someday, illustrated by Peter Reynolds, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2007.
Little Boy, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2008.
Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing), illustrated by Drazen Kozjan, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2008.
Bye-bye, Crib, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2008.
Only a Witch Can Fly, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, Feiwel and Friends (New York, NY), 2009.
Always, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2009.
Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy), illustrated by Drazen Kozjan, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2009.
Contributor of articles and short fiction to various literary periodicals.
Snap was adapted for audiocassette.
Minnesota-based author Alison McGhee writes fiction for a range of age groups, from young children to adults. Her first novel, Rainlight, won both the Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award and the 1999 Minnesota Book Award. Her follow-up effort, Shadow Baby, won the Minnesota Book Award in 2001, and was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in literature. When she is not writing, McGhee shares her skills as a teacher in the creative-writing program at Metropolitan State University in the city of St. Paul. She has also taught through a number of other writing programs, including the M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults program at Vermont College.
In Rainlight McGhee tells the story of the sudden, accidental death of husband and father Starr Williams, and how the family and friends William has left behind handle their grief. Not only does McGhee address the impact of the man's death, but she also illustrates how his life continues to affect the people around him even after he is gone. Margaret Flanagan, contributing to Booklist, wrote that "this heartrending yet ultimately affirmative eulogy is laden with both despair and hope," comprising "a stunning debut." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Rainlight a "vivid, poetically charged (and occasionally overwritten) first novel."
Shadow Baby, McGhee's second novel, revisits themes of loss and grief as it examines the world through the eyes of young Clara Winter. Clara befriends the elderly Georg Kominsky as part of a school history project, and Georg soon becomes a major adult influence in her life. They trade stories of the hardships they have experienced; Clara's twin sister died at birth and her mother refuses to speak of the past, while Georg was forced to abandon his injured brother during a snowstorm on their way to America and never saw the boy again. Following a tragic climax, Clara is able to open herself to the other adults in her life as a result of what Georg has taught her. Becky Ferrall, in a review for School Library Journal, commented of Shadow Baby that "Clara's insights bring both introspection and humor to this skillfully told story about seeing and finding the possibilities in life," while Michelle Kaske remarked in Booklist that "McGhee's work, full of contrasts and transformations, is a strong, solid novel with quiet feminist undertones." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that, "with a mix of deadpan humor and pathos, McGhee perfectly captures the voice of a sensitive, wise child on the cusp of adulthood, at once knowing and naive."
In the novel Was It Beautiful? William T. Jones, a dairy trucker from the Adirondack mountains, allows his grief to get the better of him when his grown son, William J., is hit by a train and dies. Haunted by his son's death, which he witnessed, William T. draws into himself. He refuses to socialize, rebuffs his wife, Eliza, and ignores both his now-widowed daughter-in-law and his best friend, Burl. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that Was It Beautiful? "is gracefully wrought, set against a frigid Adirondack winter that's no match for William T.'s emotional deep freeze." Although a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the work is "skillfully done, but little new, and determinedly sentimental," Library Journal critic Beth E. Andersen called Was It Beautiful? "hypnotic, wrenching, and powerful in its promise of hope in the face of impossible grief."
McGhee's works for children include two stories centering on the same little girl: Countdown to Kindergarten and Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth. In the first title, the young narrator is frightened of starting kindergarten, as she has heard from an older child that everyone will be expected to know how to tie their own shoes and she has yet to master the task. Over the days leading up to her first day of school, nothing can take her mind off of her fear, not even shoe-tying lessons from her father or a favorite spaghetti dinner. Once school begins, however, the child is relieved to learn she is not the only one who cannot tie their laces. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that "In this witty children's debut, novelist McGhee combines a puckishly structured counting book … with an amiable exploration of new-school anxiety."
In Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth the same young girl moves up to first grade, where, according to the second-grade rumor mill, the teacher has a purple tongue and likes to steal students' baby teeth. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked that here McGhee "keeps the dialogue crisp, bringing out the sweet gullibility of the first-grader and the second-grader's mischief-making."
With Snap, McGhee turns her attention to a young-adult audience. The novel follows Edwina Beckly, or "Eddie," who wears colored rubber bands around her arm and snaps them to remind herself of various things. One of those things is to think about her best friend's grandmother, Willie, who is dying of a blood disease. Ilene Cooper, in Booklist, remarked that Snap "is pregnant with tragedy, but it's not so much what happens as the way McGhee … writes it. Her writing is precise, evocative, and sure." School Library Journal reviewer Susan Hepler wrote that the novel "features memorable characters and a tolerance for eccentricity, emotional subtlety, and complexity, themes of acceptance, of death and love, and a spare and poetic text that begs to be reread and savored."
Also for young adults, All Rivers Flow to the Sea finds teenager Rose traumatized by the accident that put her sister in a coma. Ultimately, Rose struggles with coming to terms with this new reality and recover from the pain she has caused herself by seeking solace in the wrong places. A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented of All Rivers Flow to the Sea that "McGhee writes confidently as one who remembers the ordinariness of adolescence as well as its angst," and Holly Koelling concluded in Booklist that, "despite its literary imperfections, this remains an insightful work that will touch readers." Kliatt contributor Myrna Marler agreed that All Rivers Flow to the Sea offers readers "a window into the process of grieving," and went on to call the novel "one of those rare books that somehow manages to express the inexpressible."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of Rainlight, p. 1202; April 1, 2000, Michelle Kaske, review of Shadow Baby, p. 1436; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 1974; May 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Snap, p. 1621; October 15, 2005, Holly Koelling, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, p. 42; February 15, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of Falling Boy, p. 36.
Children's Bookwatch, December 1, 2005, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea.
Daughters, January-February, 2003, Alison McGhee, "Refusing to Keep Quiet," p. 15.
Denver Post, March 16, 2003, review of Was It Beautiful?
Instructor, August, 2003, Judy Freeman, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 61.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 959; December 1, 2002, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 1723; March 1, 2004, review of Snap, p. 227; July 1, 2004, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 633; October 15, 2005, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, p. 1143; July 1, 2006, review of A Very Brave Witch, p. 679; October 1, 2006, review of Falling Boy, p. 981; March 1, 2007, review of Someday, p. 228.
Kliatt, November 1, 2005, Myrna Marler, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, p. 8.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Lisa S. Nussbaum, review of Shadow Baby, p. 130; December, 2002, Beth E. Andersen, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 179.
Minneapolis Observer Quarterly, February 19, 2006, Anne Geske, author interview.
Publishers Weekly, January 5, 1998, review of Rainlight, p. 57; February 14, 2000, review of Shadow Baby, p. 170; July 8, 2002, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, pp. 48-49; February 17, 2003, review of Was It Beautiful?, p. 59; April 12, 2004, review of Snap, p. 66; July 5, 2004, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 54; November 14, 2005, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, p. 71; August 14, 2006, review of A Very Brave Witch, p. 204; October 16, 2006, review of Falling Boy, p. 27; February 12, 2007, review of Someday, p. 84.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Becky Ferrall, review of Shadow Baby, p. 184; September, 2002, Mary Elam, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 201; April, 2004, Susan Hepler, review of Snap, p. 157; July, 2004, Lisa G. Kropp, review of Countdown to Kindergarten, p. 43; September, 2004, Mary Elam, review of Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, p. 173; November 1, 2005, Emily Garrett, review of All Rivers Flow to the Sea, p. 141; August 1, 2006, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of A Very Brave Witch, p. 93; March 1, 2007, Carolyn Janssen, review of Someday, p. 176; April 1, 2007, Jamie Watson, review of Falling Boy, p. 168.
Alison McGhee Home Page,http://www.alisonmcghee.com (February 9, 2009).
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (February 9, 2005), "Alison McGhee."
Crown Publishing Group Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/ (February 9, 2009), "Alison McGhee."
Small Spiral Notebook Web site,http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (June 25, 2007), Mary Phillips, interview with McGhee.
VisitingAuthors.com,http://www.visitingauthors.com/ (February 9, 2009), "Alison McGhee."