Mary Jo Bang was born Mary Jo Ward in the small town of Waynesville, Missouri, but grew up in Ferguson, a northern suburb of St. Louis. Neither her mother, a homemaker, nor her stepfather, a truck driver, had graduated from high school, and Bang grew up with little exposure to literature until she discovered the bookmobile at the age of seven and became a voracious reader. Because of financial restraints and Bang’s uncertainty about a course of study—she was sure only that she loved the idea of learning—she attended a number of universities before completing a bachelor of science degree (1971) and a master’s degree (1975) in sociology at Northwestern University. Before completing her studies, she was married, had a son, and was divorced. After graduation, enraged over the lingering war in Southeast Asia, Bang moved to Philadelphia to work with a Quaker organization dedicated to social reform. She then found herself drawn to the medical field. She returned to Missouri and received a physician’s assistant degree from St. Louis University. In 1978, she married a high school friend who had a son about the same age as hers, and she moved to Evanston, Illinois, where she worked in the medical field for nearly eight years.
Bang, who now had two children and a hectic professional career, pursued her love of writing by enrolling in a night class in the creative writing program at Northwestern University. During a vacation in France, however, she fell in...
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