Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517
Richard Wayne Peck was born on April 5, 1934, in Decatur, Illinois, the son of Wayne Morris Peck, a motorcycle-riding merchant, and Virginia Gray Peck, a dietician. Peck’s father was a veteran of World War I who ran a gas station on the edge of town. Richard Peck describes his childhood as quiet and safe. As a young man, he loved automobiles and proudly identified them by make and model. He first went to college in England, to the University of Exeter, but completed his B.A. at DePauw University in 1956. In 1959 he earned his M.A at Southern Illinois University, and he completed further graduate study at Washington University from 1960 to 1961.
After serving in the Army, Peck became a high school English teacher, working in both Illinois and New York City. While still a teacher, he began his writing career with a column on the architecture of historic neighborhoods for The New York Times. After teaching at several schools, including Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois; Hunter College of the City University of New York; and Hunter College High School in New York City, Peck left teaching to become a full-time writer in 1971. His first novel, Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt, about teenage pregnancy, was inspired, as were many of his works, by the adolescent problems he encountered in his classrooms. The novel received critical praise and became a popular success and continues to sell in both paperback and hardcover editions. With the subsequent publication of more than twenty novels, Peck has become one of the United States’ most highly respected writers for young adults.
Peck’s books on teenage issues like suicide, unwanted pregnancy, death of a loved one, and rape have won critical accolades for their realism and emotional power and, additionally, their ability to help young readers develop self-confidence. A versatile writer, Peck has also written adult novels dealing with sexual stereotypes, such as This Family of Women, which features, as do many of his works, independent, uniquely individual heroines. Other books of his fall into many genres: horror, mystery, occult, historical, and social commentary. His work has received numerous awards, including the American Library Association’s Young Adult Author Achievement Award in 1990. He earned the prestigious Newbery Medal, in 2001, for A Year Down Yonder.
For many years Peck worked as a lecturer on cruise ships, and the people he met on these voyages often resurface as characters in his books. His not-so-ordinary characters come to life via a minimum of description and conversation. Peck’s works rely on these characterizations to reinforce a common theme in his stories: admiration for those who do not conform to a group. He advises young people who want to become writers to spend time with uncommon individuals. Peck lives that credo in his resistance to the infusion of technology into modern life; he still types his manuscripts on a manual typewriter, and he does not have a Web site. He lives in New York City, and, in addition to writing, he travels and speaks at conferences, schools, and libraries.