I was born in Colorado, which means that even though I don’t remember a thing, I
could display a bumper sticker that looks like this.
Wanting to get as far away from home as possible, I went to Oberlin College in Ohio.
Oberlin has a world-famous music conservatory with 199 Steinway grand pianos and
150 practice rooms with a window in every one. I practiced a lot, but I was never
good enough to get into the conservatory, so I studied German and Russian instead.
I competed on the Poughkeepsie High School gymnastics team for four years and ended
with a perfect record, which is to say, we never won a single meet. We once came
within half a point of winning, but the judge didn’t give me full credit on one of
my moves on the uneven bars. His name was Mr. Nippert. Not that I would bear a grudge.
In 1980 I spent four months in Mainz, Germany, a summer traveling solo around Europe,
and four months in the Soviet Union. This was shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan
and the ensuing Olympic boycott. Once a Russian stopped me on the street and asked,
“Why didn’t you come to the Olympic Games?” If he knew about my gymnastics record,
he wouldn’t have asked.
During grad school at Cornell University, I took up ultimate frisbee, which I played
competitively for twelve years in six countries on three continents. I was a lot
better at frisbee than I was at gymnastics. In 1992 I played on the US women’s team
at the World Championships in Utsunomiya, Japan, where we came in third. (Don’t tell
anyone that there were only four teams there!)
Unlike many writers, I did not spend my childhood writing stories and dreaming of
becoming a writer. (I wanted to be a vet.) In high school I took a creative writing
class, but the only thing I ever wrote about was the meaninglessness of life. I
originally wanted to translate some of the fantastic Russian children’s books into
English, but I got distracted when I found out how much fun it was to write my own
stories and poems.
For the past twenty years I have taught Russian language and literature at Carleton
College in Minnesota. I still hope to bring Russian children’s literature to English
speakers, but for now that will have to wait. I have too many stories of my own to
I spent my formative years in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is hard to spell and
fun to say. It is home to Smith Brothers Cough Drops, Vassar College, and this incredible
railroad bridge that caught fire when I was in high school. Now it’s a state park!