Allison's Book Bag

Drawing on History and Music

Posted on: March 30, 2015

A daughter of the West, Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of fifteen award-wining fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. Her passion is writing stories about outsiders in American history, characters who have persevered over incredible odds. One of her recent historical books, My Country Tis of Thee, I’ll review tomorrow. Save the date: March 31!


ClaireRudophMurphyPolitics. Biographies. History. All of these influenced Murphy in her formative years. With her parents, she heard and talked politics. They also taught her a love of books. Murphy read every juvenile biography at the local public library. In high school, a teacher’s love of history inspired Murphy to major in history in university.

Although Murphy grew up to become a secondary language arts teacher, she never lost this love of history. According to 49Writers, Murphy found herself returning to her lifelong passion in Alaska due to a fascination with native cultures and the gold rush history of the 49th state. Murphy also believes that the research by Jane Haigh and her on the women, kids, and even the dog stories of the northern gold rushes to be among her best work. Before that all the history of the gold rush had been told through the eyes of the men. Alaska is also where Murphy became first drawn to the stories of outsiders in history. Indeed, Murphy’s first ten books take place in Alaska and she still has stories from up North that she wants to tell.

After obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, she taught creative writing for many years for the Alaska State Writing Consortium and Eastern Washington University. Murphy is also now one of the teachers at Hamline University’s low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Because she’s always loved to teach, Murphy feels it’s a natural fit for her to work with dedicated students wanting to master the craft of writing for kids and young adults. The four-semester program at Hamline involves twice yearly 10-day residencies that involve lectures, manuscript workshops, readings, and presentations by special guests. The students and grads have formed a writing community that will last a lifetime and cut their learning curve about how to write and publish books for young readers. After the residency, every student is assigned a faculty advisor to work with. Murphy believes she has seen tremendous growth in the students in the program and tells 49Writers that many of the graduates there are now experiencing success in the publishing world.

After living for twenty-four years in Alaska, Murphy and her husband now live in Washington and have two grown children. She she continues to write, visit schools, and teach creative writing workshops. When not writing and reading Claire enjoys sports and music, and building an energy efficient, sustainable home where she plans to write for many years. Her children, their friends, and Claire’s many nieces and nephews have given her insights over the years about kids and teens. Americans who have fought for equal rights in every arena continue to inspire Claire today.


My Country Tis of Thee is one of Murphy’s projects that simmered for years as she researched individuals throughout American history who had stood up for equal rights. Murphy explains to The Storyteller’s Inkpot She couldn’t find a structure to hold all this material until she came across the suffragist verse to this familiar song. “I can remember the moment when I thought—wow—I wonder if other protest groups also wrote verses for causes they believed in. I began discovering that they had from colonial protestors to abolitionists to Native American activists. Without all my research, I don’t believe I would have recognized what a great vessel this was to tell our country’s civil rights’ history.”

Murphy adds in an interview with Anne Tews Schwab in the December edition of Children’s Book Insider that as she kept searching online and in articles and books, gems kept coming…. Marion Anderson singing in front of the Constitution Hall in 1939 because she couldn’t sing inside, Martin Luther King Jr. quoting from the song in his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Aretha Franklin singing the song at President Obama’s first inauguration.

The format of the book helped Murphy use two of her strengths—a love of music and working with students—in promotional efforts. Two local choirs recorded the verses from the book and they’re now available on Murphy’s website for online listening. Her invitation at the end of the book to “write a new verse for a cause you believe in” led to a national contest, which invited classes and individual students to submit new verses for a chance to win a book or a poster of Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama’s inauguration.


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