Kate DiCamillo was born March 25, 1964, in Merion, Pennsylvania. At the age of five, her family moved to Florida because her doctors felt the warm climate might cure her chronic pneumonia. There, DiCamillo read such books as A Cricket in Times Square, The Twenty-One Balloons, The Secret Garden, The Yearling, Ribsy, Somebody Else's Shoes, and all the Louisa May Alcott books. She also lists authors Carson McCullers and Harper Lee as her heroes.
DiCamillo earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Florida, and after returning to the North to live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she began working full time in a used bookstore. She received a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers in 1998, and during a very cold winter in Minnesota, DiCamillo says she began to get terribly homesick for Florida. In addition, the apartment building where she lived did not allow dogs and, for the first time in her life, DiCamillo was without a pet. In information posted on the Candlewick Press web site, she explains how her main character, India Opal Buloni, began to tell the story of Because of Winn-Dixie:
I was suffering from a serious case of 'dog withdrawal.'
One night, before I went to sleep, I heard this little girl's voice (with a Southern accent) say, "I have a dog named Winn- Dixie." When I woke up the next morning, the voice was still talking, and I started writing down what India Opal Buloni was telling me.
The author drew from her own life as she recorded what Opal whispered to her. DiCamillo's father left her family when she was very young, so she related well to Opal's grief over losing her mother. DiCamillo also drew on her love for the lifestyle she had experienced while living in a small town in Florida. She set Opal and Winn- Dixie right in the middle of a town where everyone knows everyone else.
Following a strict schedule, DiCamillo rose at four o'clock every morning to go to the computer to write before going off to work. As tough as it was, this dedication was rewarded when Candlewick Press purchased Because of Winn-Dixie and sent it out into the world where it garnered high reviews and was soon listed on the New York Times bestseller list. In addition, this "hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South"—as DiCamillo describes her novel—captured a Parent's Choice Gold Award and "Best Book" designations by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Offspring Magazine. Finally, Because of Winn-Dixie received the distinction of being named an honor book for the Newbery Award in 2001.
Candlewick Press released DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising in March 2001. While DiCamillo is no longer working full time at the used bookstore, she still maintains a strict writing schedule, adhering to a goal of two pages a day, five days a week. When asked in an interview on Kidsreads.com about the recent success of Because of Winn- Dixie, DiCamillo said:
I am busier now than I ever imagined I would be; but I feel blessed in that I have found what I am supposed to be doing with my life. It's wonderful to tell stories and have people listen to them. Hands down, the biggest thrill is to get a letter from a kid saying, "I loved your book. Will you write me another one?"