Janis (Jan) Mary Hudson was born in Calgary, Alberta, on April 27,1954. While Hudson was still an infant, her father, Laurence (Laurie) Wiedrick, and her teacher mother, Mary, moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where Hudson's father became head of school library services for the Edmonton Public School Board and later a professor of School Librarianship in the faculty of Education, University of Alberta. After attending Edmonton's Mount Royale and Lendrum elementary schools and Harry Ainlay Composite High School, Hudson graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Calgary in 1978. A law degree from the University of Alberta followed in 1984.
The year that that Hudson was in eleventh grade was spent in Eugene, Oregon, while her father was on sabbatical and was important in her early development as a writer. There, she encountered Allan Woods, an English and drama teacher, who encouraged her to enter writing contests. Although she was one of two state runners-up in an NCTE competition, Hudson said, in an interview with Jenkinson, she found that the real value of entering the contests came from giving her the ability to seek objective, large-scale appraisal of work, something she likely would not have done without someone like Woods to encourage her.
During the Jenkinson interview, Hudson admitted to being a shy person, and she added that she wrote partly because she was so shy. She recalled finding her social niche in junior high by writing funny stories in language classes. She knew that they were good if there was a fight among her fellow students to see who got to read them out loud. As a very young girl, Hudson originally wanted to be a published poet, but she later changed that goal to wanting to write a novel, setting the age of thirty as her target date.
While engaged in her law studies, Hudson took an interdisciplinary course about Western Canadian First Nations treaties, especially those involving the lands around Calgary, and it was through this course that Hudson first encountered the period setting for Sweetgrass. In the Jenkinson interview, Hudson recalls the genesis of the Sweetgrass character, which occurred on a city of Calgary bus as Hudson was coming home from her university classes. Originally, she had planned to write the novel about a boy because the prevailing philosophy then was that a historical fiction manuscript stood a better chance of being published if the story was about a male. Hudson told Jenkinson that she could remember the exact moment at which she gave in and switched to a female protagonist. "I was sitting there, thinking about the plotting again, and there was this darn girl's voice buzzing away in my ear again. I thought 'I don't want to write about you. I don't like you. Go away!'" However, the character did not go away and, once Hudson accepted her, writing the book and developing the plot became much easier.
Before putting her fingers on the computer keyboard, Hudson spent more than a year researching the historical period. After she actually did start to write Sweetgrass, she says that her progress was sporadic, for she would often leave the novel for months before returning to it. In the Jenkinson interview, Hudson characterizes herself as basically being a "rewriter" rather than a writer. Although she recognizes that most aspiring writers write several novels before producing one that is publishable, for her, becoming a published author involved rewriting the same story, over and over, until it was publishable. She also told Jenkinson that, with the exception of Sweetgrass, the names of the other characters in the book were chosen out of indexes of stories from the period that included Blackfoot names.
Sweetgrass is dedicated "To my almost daughter Cindy Lynn"; Hudson was thinking of her husband's daughter by his first marriage when she wrote the book. Finishing the first draft in 1979, she shopped the manuscript around to many American publishers but did not find any takers. In 1981, Hudson decided to enter Sweetgrass in the first Alberta Writing for Young People contest, sponsored by Alberta Culture, where it placed second. Although placing in the contest was supposed to guarantee publication, the publisher involved in the contest reneged. Again, Hudson began sending the manuscript out and, while one Canadian publisher did show interest, the editor wanted the character, Pretty Girl, deleted from the first third of the book, something Hudson was not prepared to do. Finally, Allan Shute, the publisher of Edmonton's Tree Frog Press and one of the judges in the original contest, approached Hudson about publication. As Hudson explained to Jenkinson, what impressed her about Shute was not only that he liked her writing style but that he also knew what she was trying to do in the book with the character of Pretty Girl.
In the year it was published, Sweetgrass received Canada's two most significant awards for juvenile literature, receiving both the Canada Council's Children's Literature Prize and the Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year Award. Not published in the United States until 1989, the American edition of Sweetgrass received numerous accolades, including being named a School Library Journal Best Book, recognized with Notable Children's Book and Best Book for Young Adults citations from the American Library Association, and being awarded the Parents' Choice Award for Children's Books.
On April 22, 1990, just days before her thirty-sixth birthday, Jan Hudson died in Edmonton from sudden respiratory failure brought on by viral pneumonia. That year also saw the publication of her second historical fiction novel, Dawn Rider.