Jerry Spinelli Biography

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Spinelli is considered one of America's most important contemporary young adult writers, and, like his other books, Stargirl was well received by both critics and the public. Stargirl was a New York Times bestseller and received favorable reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the American Library Association, among others. Spinelli is a prolific writer, with twenty-six works published between his debut, Space Station Seventh Grade, in 1982, and his most recent novel, Smiles to Go, published in 2008. The struggle between the community and the individual is a frequent theme in Spinelli’s fiction; while Stargirl explored the issue in a high school setting, the Newbery Medal-winning Maniac Magee dealt with interracial relationships frowned on by a community, and the Newbery Honor-winning Wringer focused on bullying and peer pressure.

Spinelli is particularly well-known as an author who engages young adults with fresh, captivating writing and contemporary situations. As a result, Spinelli’s works, including Stargirl, are often recommended to reluctant young adult readers. Stargirl in particular seems to have had a powerful effect on young readers, as schools across the country have started “Stargirl Societies” dedicated to promoting the value of individuality so clearly expressed in the novel.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jerry Spinelli was born February 1, 1941, in Pennsylvania and still lives in that state. He graduated from Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He then worked for over twenty years as a technical magazine editor while intermittently trying to publish adult fiction. In 1957, Spinelli married another author, Eileen Mesi, who had six children. Spinelli credits his own childhood adventures and those of his six step children with providing the inspiration for most of his books. He calls the children his "Huckleberry Finns" and says that after living with them for only two months, he began to pay attention to humor from an adolescent point of view. Five years later, he published his first novel, Space Station Seventh Grade. He continued to work as a magazine editor while he wrote four other books for adolescents, eventually leaving his editorial job to pursue his writing full time.

His best known book, Maniac Magee, was published in 1990 and won the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe- Horn Book Award for fiction. In his acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal (1991), Spinelli credits his adolescent readers with being the ones who are maddening, fascinating, funny, heroic, promising, elusive, and inspiring. His great knowledge and insight into this age group are reflected in the true adolescents who are his characters and who experience the up-and-down emotions so typical of their age group. Spinelli is now working on a book of poetry.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jerry Spinelli was born on February 1, 1941, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he spent his childhood, living in a brick row house in the West End. At sixteen, he wrote his first poem celebrating a victory of his high school football team. After a local paper published it, he claims that he stopped wanting to be a major league baseball player and started wanting to be a writer. He graduated from Gettysburg College with a bachelor's degree in 1963. In 1964 he received a master's degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. He also attended Temple University in 1964.

He married Eileen Mesi, the mother of six children and herself a writer, in 1977. He and Eileen have had one more child.

During the years 1966 to 1989, when he worked for a technical publisher, Spinelli continued his desire to be a full-time author. He began his career as an author of adult novels that no one, he says, wanted to publish. He started writing for young adults after one of Eileen's children stole from the refrigerator some fried chicken that Jerry was saving for his lunch the next day. This episode became the basis of the first chapter in Space Station Seventh Grade.

In 1991, he won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in fiction and a Newbery...

(The entire section is 992 words.)