Allison's Book Bag

The Blessing of An Accident

Posted on: March 4, 2014

JoanBauerWhile recovering from surgery after a serious car accident, Joan Bauer began writing a story about a girl in a pumpkin-growing competition. This story became Squashed, a novel that won the Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel. In its aftermath, Bauer finally found her calling as a young adult novelist. Her subsequent novels have earned Bauer many more awards, including the Newberry Honor for Hope Was Here. I’ll review this book here tomorrow. Save the date: March 5!

CHILDHOOD

Born in Illinois, in 1951, Joan Bauer was the oldest of three sisters. She grew up always penning stories, poems, and entries in her diary. She was also a voracious reader and frequent patron of her local library. In her bio, Bauer recalls the feel of her fingers sliding across rows and rows of books and of looking through card catalogs that seemed to house everything that anyone might need to know about the world.

Her other interests included music and comedy. Bauer played the flute, taught herself her guitar, and wrote folk songs. When other friends made career plans, declaring that they would become doctors, nurses, and lawyers, Bauer instead determined to be involved somehow with comedy. Her mom, a high school English teacher, had a great comic sense. Her grandmother too was a funny professional storyteller.

That’s not to say that Bauer could make her friends laugh. She often didn’t laugh at the same things as them either. When one combines this idiosyncrasy with her tall and overweight figure, Bauer writes in her bio that she felt different as a child. Of course, as anyone who knows anything about authors, this means Bauer was building up a lot of material for her to use as a writer.

When Bauer was eight, her parents got divorced. Moreover, her alcoholic father dropped out of her life which, Bauer tells All About Adolescent Literacy cast a shadow that followed her for years. As a teen, Bauer was a self-described “rebel” who was trying to find her place in the world without a father figure. Although Bauer learned things from this loss that have made her resilient, every novel of hers to date has dealt with complex father issues. The theme that Bauer says she tries to carry into all of her writing is: adversity, if we let it, will make us stronger.

ADULTHOOD

Skipping ahead to her twenties, for about ten years, Bauer worked in sales and advertising in Chicago. Her bio reveals that the career choice didn’t make her happy. She even had the ulcers to prove it.

However, in 1981, at the age of 30, Bauer met a computer scientist while on vacation who changed her life. He asked her to dance; She said no. Five short months later they married.

Thanks to her husband’s encouragement, Bauer decided to pursue her passion for writing. It was a slow, slow build. For a while, she wrote articles for magazines and newspapers for not much money. From journalism, Bauer switched to trying to her hand at being at a screenwriter.

Soon though, Bauer was faced with one of the biggest challenges of her life. She was in a serious auto accident which severely injured her neck and back and required neurosurgery. Unable to keep up with the daily demands of screenwriting, Baeur began to write a novel.

WRITING LIFE

Falling back on her childhood roots, the humor in Squashed kept her going. Here too is where, in Bauer’s bio, her grandmother earns the credit for being a significant influence on Baeur’s creatively. Her grandmother never announced, “Now I’m going to tell you a funny story.” Instead, she’d just tell a story, and the humor would naturally flow from it because of who she was and how she and her characters saw the world. She showed Bauer the difference between derisive laughter that hurts others and laughter that comes from the heart. From her, Bauer also learned that stories help us understand ourselves at a deep level.

Bauer explains to All About Adolescent Literacy that she has learned that some of her most powerful writing comes from tapping into the adversity that she has faced throughout her life. Rules of the Road, for example, served as a healing and cathartic experience for Bauer, because she wrote about alcoholism. It also affected readers who struggled with the same dilemma. It was also chosen as one of the top young adult books of the quarter century by the American Library Association.

Today Bauer and her husband live in New York. When Bauer is not writing, she loves to read, watch movies, cook, walk, and travel. The couple have an adult daughter and a dog. Bauer is a member of the Writers Guild of America East, the Authors Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A New York Times bestselling author, Bauer has won numerous awards for her books. She’s been a frequent guest on both local and national radio. Through the State Department’s professional speakers program, she has spoken with students, writers, educators, and children at risk about her life and her novels.

To learn more about Bauer and her books, check out this interview: Author Chat from New York Public Library

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