Family is an important component of Han Nolan's life. Although she was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on August 25, 1956, Helen "Han" Walker Nolan has lived the majority of her life in northern states. Nolan's parents, attorney James Walker and Eileen Walker, moved their five children from Alabama to the New York City area. They often visited cousins in Dothan, Alabama, who enchanted Nolan with their extended southern storytelling sessions characterized by humor and drama. Her experiences in contrasting regions shaped her literary depictions of people and places.
Because one of her sisters could not pronounce the name Helen, Nolan was called Han by her family. The Walkers frequently moved, helping Nolan learn to adjust and befriend people. Her parents encouraged their children to embrace artistic endeavors, especially reading literature. Among Nolan's childhood favorites, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy inspired her to write in a journal and fantasize about becoming a spy. That children's book set Nolan on the path to becoming an author. Journaling became a lifelong pursuit which Nolan credits for advancing her writing skills. Other books which profoundly affected her discussed the Holocaust, which she later wrote about when she was an adult.
As a child, Nolan told her family tales then recorded her stories on paper when she mastered handwriting techniques. Ironically, despite her vigorous imagination, Nolan found elementary school frustrating because she was held back a year because of difficulties paying attention in class. As a result, she thought she was stupid. At that time, no one realized that food allergies were the cause of her hyperactivity—only as an adult was Nolan accurately diagnosed. In junior high school, Nolan discovered her passion for dancing. The discipline necessary to excel at that art improved Nolan's attention span and helped her become happier as a teenager.
After high school graduation, Nolan decided to major in dance education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She attended classes in science, education, and English in addition to her physical education curriculum. Nolan received a bachelor's of science degree in 1979. Next, she enrolled in graduate studies at the Ohio State University where she met doctoral student Brian Nolan, whom she married in 1981, the same year she completed a master's degree in ballet and modern dance. She then taught dance until 1984. The couple later adopted two daughters who influenced Nolan's fiction.
The Nolans moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, then Connecticut. Deciding to stay home to raise her children, Nolan considered writing fiction for young adults to earn money. She had taken courses in creative writing and realized few writers achieved financial success. Nolan confided her dream to her husband who purchased a guide to fiction markets. Consulting writer's texts to master techniques, she began submitting her work, but publishers expressed no interest. Nolan frequently drove a twohour round trip to meet with her writer's group.
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