Paul Fleischman Biography

Paul Fleischman’s father, Sid Fleischman, won the Newbery Medal in 1987 for his book The Whipping Boy. Paul won the award in 1989 for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. They are the only father-and-son pair to ever win the coveted prize. Sid would read the books he was writing to Paul chapter by chapter as he wrote them when Paul was a child. This led to the younger Fleischman’s love of literature and writing. He later became interested in authoring historical fiction after living in a two-hundred-year-old home in New Hampshire. Along with his novels, he has written several plays that combine poetry, prose, and multiple points of view.

Facts and Trivia

  • As a child, Fleischman would bicycle around his town and collect odd bits of trash, which he later made into sculptures. He still does interesting art projects—but now he uses his computer instead of trash.
  • Fleischman said that he writes for young people because he enjoys the freedom of making up his own genres, something he feels he could not do if he were publishing books for adults.
  • Fleischman has worked as a bookstore clerk, a library shelver, and a proofreader.
  • He started the grammar watchdog groups ColonWatch and The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to English.
  • A film version of his novel A Fate Totally Worse Than Death was released in 2005.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 776

On September 5, 1952, in Monterey, California, Paul Fleischman was born to Albert Sidney, well-known children's author, and Beth Taylor Fleischman. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, from 1970-72 and graduated with a B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1977. He is married, has two children, Seth and Dana, and lives in Pacific Grove, California.

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Prior to writing full time he worked at a variety of jobs: a carpenter, bagel baker, bookstore clerk, library aide, and proofreader. He is a member of the Authors Guild and a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

His books have received numerous awards including a Newbery Honor Book medal for Graven Images: Three Stories in 1983 and the Newbery Medal in 1989 for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Whirligig received the Golden Kite Honor Book from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in 1999.

His love of music influences his writing as he blends musical language with quirky looks at the world. He said of himself in School Library Journal, "I'm a maker at heart . . . I collect materials, relying heavily on chance. I sort and discard. I envision possible shapes the book might take.... A sculpture grows upward; paragraphs grow down."

His writing embraces a variety of themes and styles across varied genres. He is equally at ease writing poetry for multiple voices as he is writing fantasy, historical fiction, or contemporary realistic fiction.

He grew up in Santa Monica, California, hearing his father's stories as they came out of his typewriter. He said in School Library Journal, "I was exposed to books, but was not a reader and certainly had no plans to be a writer." He and his sisters spent their time exploring the beach town where they lived, riding their bicycles up and down every street and alley. Reading for pleasure did not enter his life until high school when he discovered it on his own. He started reading adult books, all kinds of things, like Grapes of Wrath, Mark Twain, Gogol, and Russian novels. It was the same with music. He discovered classical music in high school and devoured the classical collection at the Santa Monica Public Library.

Just prior to graduation from college in 1977, he was searching for an occupation. He knew his father had made a living at writing and he had grown up in his father's house. He had absorbed a great deal about the craft, of writing. He sat down and wrote The Birthday Tree.

From that beginning he has grown as a writer. In his Newbery acceptance speech in 1989 he stated, "I write only a page or so a day. After several books it dawned on me that this was because I was writing prose that scanned, something that makes for slow progress... .All my prose is written in 4/4 time." He has a passion for music. He usually writes Monday through Friday from morning until dinner, and sometimes at night. He does not usually write on the weekends and his writing day is shortened when he picks up his children from school and their activities. When he is in a book, he wants to get it done. When one is finished, he is trying to get another going. It takes many hours to write a book. He works completely freelance which means he never signs contracts ahead of time. He told an interviewer for an article in Indiana Media Journal,

I'm a weather vane. I point where my interests point me. Lately, I've rediscovered the modern world. I'm setting books in the present day, which is new for me.

Now, I'm doing some adult fiction.... That's a whole new world for me, and that's great. That's what I like about writing; the variety. The chance not to do the same thing in every book, but to do something very different. Even things that nobody's done. Those are the ones that excite me the most.

The joy and pleasure of making something, building something, rather than awards and money motivate Fleischman to continue writing. He loves working with words. "It is pleasurable. It doesn't drain me, it fills me with energy. I like to make things . . . I really write for myself, out of my own interests. Out of my own life, which I transform, turn upside down and inside out, and put into books . . . I'm writing out of my own life."

He also has a love affair for the past, which he credits to living in a 200-year-old house in the New Hampshire woods. He says none of his books would have been written had he not lived in that house which was a totally serendipitous event.

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