Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 988
Laurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961, in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in Syracuse with her sister, Lisa. Her father, Reverend Frank A. Halse, Jr., is a Methodist minister, and her mother, Joyce Mason (Holcomb) Halse, had a management career. Anderson's parents penned poetry and encouraged...
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Laurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961, in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in Syracuse with her sister, Lisa. Her father, Reverend Frank A. Halse, Jr., is a Methodist minister, and her mother, Joyce Mason (Holcomb) Halse, had a management career. Anderson's parents penned poetry and encouraged her to apply her strong imagination to reading and writing: as a child she used to pretend she was a polar bear as she waded through deep snow in her neighborhood.
Anderson often composed stories on her father's typewriter and was excited when she learned to create haiku in second grade. This experience inspired her to devote herself to understanding words in order to express herself artistically as a writer. She read voraciously through her school's library collection, which she considered magical. Anderson was drawn especially to poetry, history, and geographical and cultural books. Heidi and the dictionary were two of her favorite books.
Her extensive reading piqued an interest in foreign cultures. She traveled as an American Field Service exchange student to Denmark when she was a high-school senior. Anderson's host family resided on a pig farm where she learned Danish and local and national customs. In 1981, Anderson graduated from Syracuse's Onondaga Community College with an associate's degree then moved to Washington, D.C., to study language and linguistics at Georgetown University. She married Gregory H. Anderson on June 19, 1983. One year later, she completed a bachelor's degree at Georgetown. Her husband became the chief executive officer of Anderson Financial Systems, and the couple had two daughters, Stephanie and Meredith. Anderson is a Quaker and describes herself as politically independent.
Anderson moved near to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and devoted herself to her family. When her daughters were older, she began writing books to submit for publication. In 1996, Anderson published two picture books, Ndito Runs (illustrated by Anita van der Merwe), about a Kenyan girl exploring her community, and Turkey Pox (illustrated by Dorothy Donohue), featuring a girl whose family celebrated Thanksgiving differently because she had chicken pox. Ndito Runs was praised by the American Booksellers Association which named it "Pick of the Lists," and that title was also selected for recommended book lists by Kansas State Librarians, the Nevada Department of Education, and the Texas Literature Review Center. It was translated into Afrikaans, Lesotho, Xhosa, and Zulu. Anderson's third picture book, No Time for Mother's Day (1999), also illustrated by Dorothy Donohue, tells about a daughter's unique gift for her mother.
Anderson wrote Speak after she awoke from a nightmare in which a teenage girl was screaming and crying. Startled by her dream, she checked to make sure her own daughters were all right then wrote a rough draft of a young adult novel that night. Having read Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1995) and listening to her daughters' stories about high school life, Anderson was acutely aware of the crises confronting teenage girls. She realized that her narrator, Melinda, had a story she was ready to tell. Anderson had been contemplating themes that she developed in Speak, but she had not planned to write this novel. She twice revised her dream-inspired draft prior to submitting it. Speak is Anderson's first young adult novel. After Speak was published in 1999, it received starred reviews and recognition as a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller, a National Book Award finalist, a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in YA Literature Honor Book (1999), and an American Library Association "Best Book for Young Adults." School Library Journal named Speak the Best Book of the Year, and it was selected for the Parents' Guide to Children's Media's Award for Outstanding Achievement. The Horn Book included Speak on its Honor List. The Junior Library Guild and New England Children's Booksellers Association designated Speak as an exceptional novel.
Anderson's first historical fiction novel, Fever 1793 (2000), features sixteen-year-old Matilda Cook who learns about survival, autonomy, and responsibility during a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Fever achieved critical acclaim, receiving starred reviews and named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, one of The New York Public Library "100 Best Books of Fall 2000" and "Best 2001 Books for the Teenage," a 2001 Teacher's Choice by the International Reading Association, an American Bookseller Pick of Lists, and one of the Bank Street College of Education's "The Best Children's Books of 2001." Fever was chosen as a selection for the Junior Library Guild and Children's Bookof- the-Month Club and won the Parent's Guide to Children's Media Award.
In 2001, Anderson published Saudi Arabia as a volume in the Globe-trotters Club Series. She also wrote books in the Wild at Heart Series featuring teenage veterinary volunteers published by American Girl, including Book 1 Fight for Life (2000), Book 2 Homeless (2000), Book 3 Trickster (2000), Book 4 Manatee Blues (2000), Book 5 Say Good-Bye (2001), Book 6 Storm Rescue (2001), Book 7 Teacher's Pet (2001), Book 8 Trapped (2001), and Book 9 Fear of Falling (2001). She received the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award for Fight for Life. Anderson also contributed to Ward Kent Swallow's The Shy Child: Helping Children Triumph Over Shyness (2000).
Anderson teaches writing workshops for children and teachers in schools. She enjoys running and bird watching near her home in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Explaining that she feels it is a privilege to write for children, Anderson expresses hope that her stories bring good to her readers. She believes that writing children's books is the best job for her, saying that it fills her with joy. During an October 2000 speech for The New York Public Library's BookFest, Anderson spoke about her experiences writing historical and contemporary fiction, stating, "Both types of writing frustrate me, but for different reasons. I enjoy each for its unique challenges and rewards. I consider myself very fortunate to try my hand at both." Her writing schedule involves early morning journaling, writing passages for another young adult novel and working on other projects until noon, then researching and reading in the afternoon. Anderson's literary success with Speak has inspired her to attain higher writing standards.