Avi was born in Brooklyn in 1937 and grew up in New York. He attended the University of Wisconsin for his undergraduate studies but returned to New York to earn a master’s degree from Columbia.
Avi is a nickname given to the author by his twin sister when they were both about one year old, but it is now the only name he uses. He goes by it rather than his family name (Edward Irving Wortis) because his parents opposed his desire to be a writer. That, however, was not the only challenge Avi faced; he has a condition known as dysgraphia that causes him to write one word when he means another that sounds similar to it, such as writing “blue” when he means “true.” This caused him trouble in school, where he was criticized for being sloppy and for not paying attention. Avi now says that the early criticism helped him: he had to get used to being criticized, to move past it, and to believe in the value of what he wrote.
And he has succeeded. As he noted in his acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, Avi’s life has been defined by books. He has loved to read since he was a child, has worked as a librarian and a professor, and has published more than fifty books, many of which have won awards. He is known for his ability to combine history with fiction as well as for his ability to create fun, tensely plotted works.