Jane Louise Curry doesn't know what came first when she was a child, "making up stories or learning to read." With parents that read to her every night and grandparents with enormous glass-fronted bookcases, she probably didn't have a choice. But she had a ready audience.
Born in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1932, Curry grew up in a "family compound" with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living all around her. She spent her free time performing plays for her neighbors, eagerly taking on simultaneous roles of writer, director, actor, costume and set designer. She took inspiration freely from her grandparents' library, as evidenced by a piece of script she still has today -- about an orphan named "Jane Eyre."
Curry's family moved to Pennsylvania when she was in fifth grade. She continued writing, first columns for her high school newspaper, then short stories in Indiana University of Pennsylvania creative writing classes. She submitted several to magazines for publication, but none were accepted, and she would not consider a writing career again until graduate school. After tries at various careers (art teacher, greeting card writer, actress) and various schools (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of London), Curry finally found her passion -- at a bookshop on London's Charing Cross Road.
In the fifth grade, Curry had found a book. An "intoxicating, exhilarating" book. She took The Enchanted Castle from the shelf of her school library and read it over and over again, but when she moved, she couldn't find a new copy. Suddenly, nineteen years later, she was staring at The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit, remembering her passion for the comedy, mystery, and fantasy of the text. At the same time, she was volunteering for Girl Guides (British Girl Scouts), telling Native American legends around a makeshift campfire every week. Her stories were so popular that she soon had to go to the British Museum Library to find more of them. When the girls urged her to make a book from them, she reflected on her writing career. It had never occurred to her to write children's books, but she took their advice and contacted a publishing company. Her proposal was accepted, and Down from the Lonely Mountain was published in 1968. Her latest (Hold Up the Sky), published in 2003, is Curry's fifth collection of Native American stories.
Curry remembers her early years with wonderment: "I never once suspected where I really was headed." But after the discovery of The Enchanted Castle and her venture into publishing, she found she could create a story from anything she was interested in. She read about medieval knights and wrote The Sleepers; she studied eighteenth century European kidnappers and Cherokee customs for A Stolen Life. She even created entirely new settings for her seven-book series of Abaloc, in the heart of "Westerworld."
Aside from reading, writing stories has been Curry's favorite thing to do since fourth grade. Though it took her many years to turn it into a career, she urges aspiring writers to never give up. After all, she herself never knows where her stories will come from, saying "Last year it was Egyptian magic; now it is London in the year 1601; next, Ancient Rome. I can feel the shadowy shape of the story after that looming up behind me, but it's too soon to turn around and look."
Photos courtesy of Simon & Schuster.