Kate DiCamillo: dee-camellow (last part rhymes with yellow)
It's a pipe dream of many an aspiring author: publish your debut novel, claim
a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and rack up an astonishing array
of awards, including a Newbery Honor. For Kate DiCamillo, author of Because
of Winn-Dixie, it was a dream come true--and nobody could have been more
surprised than she was. "After the Newbery committee called me, I spent
the whole days walking into walls. Literally," she says. "I was
stunned. And very, very happy."
She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but moved with her family to Florida when she was five years old. "People talked more slowly and said words I had never heard before, like 'ain't' and 'y'all' and 'ma'am," she says, recalling her first impressions. "The town was small, and everybody knew everybody else. It was all so different from what I had known before, and I fell swiftly and madly in love."
Indeed, it was homesickness for Florida's warmth that helped inspire Because of Winn-Dixie, which Kate DiCamillo describes as "a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South." The author was experiencing winter in Minnesota, where she had moved when she was in her twenties. "I was also missing the sound of Southern people talking," she says. "And I was missing having a dog. One night before I went to sleep, I heart this little girl's voice with a Southern accent say, 'I have a dog named Winn-Dixie.' I just started writing down what India Opal Buloni was telling me."
Her second novel, the National Book Award finalist The Tiger Rising, is "considerably darker" than Because of Winn-Dixie," she notes, "but there's light and redemption in it." Once again, the story began with the appearance of a single character. "Rob Horton showed up in a short story I wrote and than hung around the house driving me crazy," she says. "I finally asked him what he wanted, and he told me he knew where there was a tiger." Like Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie, Rob struggles with the loss of a parent and ultimately discovers the healing power of friendship. "I don't think adults always realize how much friends mean to kids," Kate DiCamillo says. "My friends have been the saving grace of my life."
She credits one friend's son for inspiring her extraordinary new book, The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread. As she tells it, "A few years ago, my best friend's son asked me if I would write a story for him. 'Well,' I said, 'I don't normally write stories on command.' 'But this is a story that I know you would want to tell,' he said. 'It's about an unlikely hero. He has exceptionally large ears.' 'What happens to this hero?' I asked. 'I don't know,' he said. 'That's why I want you to write it down, so you can find out.' Well, Luke Bailey, three years later, here is the story of what happened to your exceptionally large-eared, unlikely hero."
When asked about her latest book, she says, "One Christmas, I received an elegantly dressed toy rabbit as a gift. I brought him home, placed him on a chair in my living room, and promptly forgot about him. A few days later, I dreamed that the rabbit was face-down on the ocean floor - lost, and waiting to be found. In telling The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I was lost for a good long while, too. And then, finally, like Edward, I was found."
She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week. "E. B. White said, 'All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world,' " she says. "That's the way I feel too."
This biography was last updated on 02/10/2006.
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Kate DiCamillo and Yoko Tanaka, the illustrator of The Magician's Elephant, discuss the writing and illustrating of the book. In a separate Q&A, Kate discusses The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane...
A Q&A with Kate DiCamillo
author of The Magician's Elephant
What is your definition of magic? What has happened in your life that is
magical or unexpected?
I guess my definition of magic is something very close to the definition the magician gives toward the end of the story: "Magic is always impossible. It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic." I would add, though, that while magic is impossible from beginning to end, it is also possible. Somehow (who knows how?) the impossible gets turned into the possible. That's magic.
Which leads very nicely into the next part of this question: What has happened in my life that is magical or unexpected?
Telling stories seems like magic to me; it seems both impossible and possible in that same way. And what has happened to me and my stories people reading them, liking them, and me getting to make my living telling them well, talk about unexpected. Talk...
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