Emily Arnold McCully graduated from Brown University and earned an MA in history at Columbia University. She is the author of two adult novels and has had her work selected as an O’Henry Prize Story. She has been writing and illustrating children’s books since the sixties and has received numerous awards, including a Christopher Award for Picnic, a Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High Wire, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for The Escape of Oney Judge. Her biography of Ida M. Tarbell was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.
Books entertained me and taught me about the world from the time I learned to read. I began to draw then, too. My mother noticed that I was trying to draw my surroundings. She said, “Why don’t you practice that and try to get it right?” I did. Drawing became my way of connecting with the world. If you study something long and hard enough to draw it, you are really seeing it. You connect your eyes, brain, hand, and heart to that thing or that person or that place.
My favorite subjects were people. Pretty soon, inspired by books, I was writing little stories about people and drawing pictures to go along with them.
I drew whenever I had some kind of paper. But I also climbed trees, rode my bike everywhere, played catch with my sister, built forts, made up plays with my friends, and did odd jobs around our house.
My drawing and painting has always been connected to words. I have always used pictures to tell stories.
In high school, I was the “class artist,” which meant being tapped to make posters, theater backdrops, and so on. In college at Brown, I stopped drawing (except to earn spending money by doing portraits of fellow students). History and literature excited me, and so did being in plays and musicals. I realized I wanted to be a writer when I graduated.
But I had to earn a living, so I moved to New York City and went back to illustrating. After a few years, I was hired to create a poster advertising a radio station. It would go up in the subway. Although a subway strike was called a week after the poster went up, a children’s book editor saw it and got in touch with me. She asked me to illustrate a chapter book. That was the beginning of my career.
You may not have known that I acted in two off-Broadway plays and belonged to the actors’ union. I have published two adult novels and had a short story picked for the O’Henry Collection. I spend hours and hours of my time digging (in the dirt during the summer gardening season and in books while researching historical subjects).