Kimberly Willis Holt was born during a hurricane in Pensacola, Florida. While growing up, she lived in Paris, Guam, and several other U.S. states because her father was a navy chief. Today, she lives in Amarillo, Texas, with her husband and daughter, but seven generations of her family have lived in Louisiana. She still calls Forest Hill, Louisiana, home because that is where her parents were from and that was the place to which they always returned during her childhood.
When she was twelve, Holt read Carson McCullers's book The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and as she explained in an interview for Kathleen Horning's online article for School Library Journal, "It was life-changing because of the characters. That was the first time I read a book where the characters seemed like real people to me." Other books she read as a child were the Little House on the Prairie books, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many biographies.
She admits to being a shy, quiet child and an average student because her family was always moving around, which always made her the new girl at school. Holt credits her seventh-grade science teacher with encouraging her love of writing. He read a poem she wrote about a Vietnam soldier and insisted she show it to the creative writing teacher. But a few years later, another teacher discouraged her. "She was a great teacher, but she would praise other people's writing, but not mine. I was very shy and insecure and I took it as though I really wasn't meant to be a writer. That kept me from writing for a long time." In the School Library Journal interview, Holt further explains that this experience is the reason she always encourages students to believe in themselves. "Don't let one person stop you," she advises.
College was a disappointment for Holt. She majored in broadcast journalism but never completed her degree. Instead, as a senior, she quit school to work full-time in the news department at a radio station. She then worked as an interior decorator before moving to Amarillo. It was there that Holt decided to treat her writing as a real job. She published some articles, essays, and short stories before turning to her young adult novels.
The inspiration for My Louisiana Sky occurred when Holt was nine years old. She and her mother passed a woman on a Louisiana back road. Holt's mother told her that the woman was mentally retarded and that she had a lot of children. The memory stayed with Holt, until the voice of twelve-year-old Tiger, the main character in her book, came to her in Amarillo. Having never written for children, Holt reacquainted herself with the middle grade and young adult literature available at the library. Pam Conrad's Prairie Songs was among the books she read, and Holt considers Conrad a mentor. "Conrad taught me that you can write about anything for children. There are no limits."
The path to publication was not easy. Holt received rejections from agents and editors, but she never lost hope. She estimates that she did approximately twenty revisions, writing off and on for three years, before an editor at Henry Holt offered to buy My Louisiana Sky, and still there was revision to be done. But Holt claims to love rewriting, and it obviously pays off. My Louisiana Sky received numerous awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for Fiction. It was also selected as one of the American Library Association's Best Ten Books for Young Adults and an ALA Notable Book for Children. Bank Street College also honored it with the Josette Frank Award, and the book was chosen as a Booklist Editor's Choice.
G. P. Putnam's Sons published Mister and Me in 1998. This book took approximately four months to write and was inspired by stories Holt heard from her father about her great grandfathers who worked in a small Louisiana sawmill town. In an interview on CNN's chat page about books, Holt reveals, "even though they're not true stories, there are many truths in them," and like My Louisiana Sky, Mister and Me garnered...
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