It was a graduation gift many writers would envy: a contract for not one but two novels, handed by Candlewick Press editor Amy Ehrlich to Cathryn Clinton as she finished up her studies at Vermont College’s MFA program in Writing for Children. And as if that weren’t enough, the first of those two novels, The Calling, would earn Cathryn Clinton an article in Publishers Weekly’s “Flying Starts” section, designating her a first-time author to watch.
Like Esta Lea, her charming protagonist in The Calling, Cathryn Clinton grew up in the South to a long line of preachers and storytellers. “Most of the events in this book come from my family history, and Esta Lea simply put them all together in one story,” the author says. Among these based-on-true-life episodes: a blind girl’s sight miraculously restored, relayed “word for word” as the author’s brother witnessed it in a charismatic church, and a slapstick burial scene. “I want to be able to say it’s OK to question, and as readers are asking those serious questions, I want them to be able to laugh, too,” the author explains.
Cathryn Clinton’s second novel, A Stone In My Hand, also touches on elements of religion, but in a very different context: it tells the moving story of a Palestinian girl in Gaza City, 1988, whose father is killed in a bus bombing and whose brother turns to violence. “While in graduate school, I had a writing assignment to choose a picture of someone and write about that person,” the author says. “In an article about Gaza in National Geographic, I saw a picture of a young Palestinian girl holding a bird in her hand. There was a look of strength in her face. This intrigued me, and I wondered how this girl had survived both internally and externally when the conditions of her growing up years were so harsh. So I sat down and began writing the story of Malaak.”
Cathryn Clinton’s titles Simeon’s Fire and The Eyes of van Gogh are again set closer to home. In Simeon’s Fire, she tells a powerful coming-of-age story that takes place in an Amish community in Pennsylvania. With compassion and insight into a child’s inner struggles and the nuances of Amish traditions, Cathryn Clinton explores ideas of family, loyalty, and faith in the face of fear and prejudice. With The Eyes of van Gogh, Cathryn Clinton introduces readers to Jude Barnes, who has recently moved to Ellenville, a small town outside of Philadelphia. In this affecting new novel, Jude finds solace in her art and her friends as she struggles to escape depression.
Cathryn Clinton received a BA in English from the University of Iowa and an MFA from Vermont College.