Sturtevant, Katherine 1950-
Sturtevant, Katherine 1950-
Born December 14, 1950, in Oakland, CA; daughter of Royal William (a carpenter and teacher) and Leisa (a school) Sturtevant; married Ronald Stuart (a software engineer), December 18, 1971; children: Joseph, Peter (twins). Education: San Francisco State University, B.A. (creative writing; magna cum laude), 1976, M.A. (cre- ative writing), 1993. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Movies, theatre, the San Francisco Giants.
Home—Berkeley, CA. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Writer-in-residence at MacDowell Colony, and others.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild.
Booklist Editor's Choice designation, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association finalist for best children's book, Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California Notable Book designation, New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age citation, Bank Street College Best Books for Children designation, and silver medal (young adult literature), Commonwealth Club/California Book Awards, all 2000, all for At the Sign of the Star; School Library Journal Best Books designation, and Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth designation, both 2006, both for A True and Faithful Narrative.
At the Sign of the Star, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
A True and Faithful Narrative, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
A Mistress Moderately Fair, Alyson Publications (Boston, MA), 1988.
Our Sisters' London: Feminist Walking Tours, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 1990, published with additional material by Kate Murphy as Our Sisters' London: Nineteen Feminist Walks, Women's Press, 1991.
At the Sign of the Star was adapted for audiobook, read by Emily Gray, Recorded Books, 2002.
Katherine Sturtevant was a writer for many years before turning to young-adult fiction with At the Sign of the Star. Drawing on the author's interest in the history of Restoration-era England, At the Sign of the Star is set in 1677 London and tells the story of twelve-year-old Meg Moore. Living with her widowed, bookseller father, Meg loves books and writing and has little interest in needlework, cooking, and the other activities that are traditionally the domain of women. Because she is the sole heir of her prosperous father's estate, the girl looks forward to a life of relative independence: her family's affluence will allow her the freedom to write, select a suitable husband, and continue to be immersed in London's stimulating literary culture. However, Meg's dream of inheriting and running her father's bookshop and publishing business is threatened when Mr. Moore remarries. Her inheritance in jeopardy after her stepmother, Susannah, gives birth to a son, Meg now finds her freedom curtailed as Susannah attempts to teach the headstrong preteen the homemaking skills that will win her a suitable husband.
At the Sign of the Star was praised for successfully introducing readers to life as it was lived in a bygone era. As Carolyn Phelan wrote in her Booklist review, Sturtevant draws on "vocabulary, speech patterns … as well as the many details" of daily life to create a "lively backdrop" for her coming-of-age tale. In School Library Journal Connie Tyrrell Burns noted that the novel "paints a lively picture" of seventeenth-century London life, weaving in such fascinating details as "medical procedures, food, and wedding rituals." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that Sturtevant avoids "simplistic devices" in illustrating Meg's maturation, instead showing that her heroine's accomplishments are "achieved through perseverance and genuine growth." In Horn Book, Anita L. Burkam lauded Sturtevant for her "portrayal of the struggles of a blended family" as well as for incorporating historically accurate vignettes that illustrate women's attitudes and opportunities during the Restoration. Concluding her review, Burns praised Sturtevant for creating a strong female protagonist and for setting Meg "in a time and place not often portrayed in books" intended for a teen readership.
When readers rejoin Meg in A True and Faithful Narrative, the girl is now sixteen years old and courted by two suitors: Will is her father's apprentice, while Edward is the adventurous brother of Meg's best friend. Although the choice of a husband is an important one for Meg, she puts this quandary on the back burner when she learns that Edward has been captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery, along with the rest of his trading ship's crew. Meg had ridiculed the young man's decision to go to sea, and now she must enlist Will's help, and use her skill at writing, to amass the funds needed to secure Edward's release. In her first-person narrative, Meg is portrayed as "a strong-willed yet vulnerable young woman," according to Phelan, the critic adding that Sturtevant frames her novel with "great clarity" and the incorporation of "vivid details." Noting the pragmatism demonstrated by Sturtevant's teen heroine, Vicky Smith added in Horn Book that this installment in Meg's story serves as "a quietly meticu- lous" illustration "of the collision between East and West as well as a musing on the mutability of destiny." In a Kirkus Reviews appraisal, a critic described A True and Faithful Narrative as "beautifully detailed" and "authentically voiced," adding that "readers will root" for Sturtevant's "lively heroine."
Sturtevant once told SATA: "I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, which was at that time filled with fruit orchards. I wrote my first story when I was in the second grade, and from then on I never wanted to be anything except a writer of fiction. And, in spite of much clerical and secretarial work, and a few other miscellaneous jobs, it's really all I have ever been. In spite of that fact, it took me a long time to discover exactly what kind of fiction I wanted to write. After many years of experimentation, I happened, in one my periodic raids on the children's section of the library, to come across Karen Cushman's wonderful novel, Catherine, Called Birdy. As I read I found myself thinking: This is the kind of book I want to write. And so I began a historical novel for young readers, set in Restoration London, a time period that has always fascinated me.
"I love history, especially the details of daily life. I've always loved reading historical novels, or, for that matter, reading any kind of novels. (Short stories are another matter.) My favorite authors of literature for adults include Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Iris Murdoch, Toni Morrison, David Lodge, and Rose Tremain. I like novels in which people talk to each other, novels with lots of interesting dialogue. Landscapes generally bore me.
"My roots are English and I have always loved English literature and history as much as that of the United States. But I am less interested in royalty or nobility than I am in the lives of merchants or tradespeople, apprentices and servants. In the future, I hope to divide my time between writing literature for children and for adults. I imagine that most of my work will be set at least partly in the past.
"When I'm not reading, writing, or researching, I enjoy movies, the San Francisco Giants, and an occasional play or ballet. But most of all—in my life as in my favorite novels—I find that nothing can equal the pleasure of good conversation."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 436; April 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 1486; March 1, 2006, Carolyn Phelan, review of A True and Faithful Narrative, p. 90.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 2001, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 199.
Horn Book, September, 2000, Anita L. Burkam, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 583; May-June, 2006, Vicky Smith, review of A True and Faithful Narrative, p. 332.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2006, review of A True and Faithful Narrative, p. 417.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Rebecca Rabinowitz, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 22.
Library Journal, July, 1990, Paula M. Zieselman, review of Our Sisters' London: Feminist Walking Tours, p. 116.
New York Times Book Review, June 10, 1990, Thomas Swick, review of Our Sisters' London, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, August 26, 1988, Penny Kaganoff, review of A Mistress Moderately Fair, p. 81; October 23, 2000, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 76.
School Library Journal, September, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 237; October, 2006, review of A True and Faithful Narrative, p. 559.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2000, review of At the Sign of the Star, p. 355.
Women's Review of Books, October, 1990, Anna Davin, review of Our Sisters' London, p. 11.
Katherine Sturtevant Home Page,http://www.thesignofthestar.com (May 15, 2007).