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Literary Birthdays: Jane Yolen

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Jane Hyatt Yolen was born on February 11, 1939 in New York City. Yolen’s family moved often, from NYC, to California, to Newport News, VA during WWII, back to NYC, and eventually to Connecticut. She was an excellent student, and wrote prolifically. In first grade she wrote the school musical. As a child she wrote essays and plays, and newspaper columns and songs. Yolen attended Smith College, where her writing flourished, and she had several poems published.

Yolen went back to NYC after college and became an editor. She says she considered herself a” poet and a journalist/nonfiction writer. But to my surprise, I became a children’s book writer.” Her first book, Pirates in Petticoats, was published when she was 22.

In 1962 she married David Stemple, and they raised three children. Family events were an inspiration for her. Her break-out picture book, Owl Moon, which was a Caldecott Award winner, was loosely based on her ornithologist husband’s birding trips with their children.

Since then Yolen has become an extremely productive author, penning over 300 books. Yolen loves being a writer, but she’s “also been an editor, a teacher, a storyteller, a critic, a songwriter for rock groups and folk singers— as well as a mother and now a grandmother.”

At her website, Yolen gives lots of advice for writers. She encourages writers to write from a place of joy, and offers this poem as inspiration-

A writer has many successes:

Each new word captured.
Each completed sentence.
Each rounded paragraph leading into the next.
Each idea that sustains and then develops.
Each character who, like a wayward adolescent, leaves home and finds a life.
Each new metaphor that, like the exact error it is, some how works.
Each new book that ends–and so begins.

Selling the piece is only an exclamation point, a spot of punctuation.


Yolen has won numerous awards over her years of writing, everything from the Caldecott Medal to the Golden Kite Award to the World Fantasy Award. And her work continues. “I remember something the great poet John Ciardi once said— that a poem is never finished, just abandoned. I am that way with everything I write. I just keep going over and over and over until someone yanks it out of my hands!”

Read a review of Owl Moon in this Literary Mama Essential Reading post. Learn more about Jane Yolen and her work at her website

Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer living in Ithaca, NY. Her essay “Blood Mountain” won the 2017 Notes From the Field contest at Flyway Journal. Other work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including, NewfoundLife in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.

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