Whitney Otto Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Whitney Otto is known as a writer of novels that are innovative both in structure and in language. She was the second of three children born to William B. Otto, Sr., an electrical engineer, and Constance D. Vambert, a public speaker who inspired her daughter to make the most of her talents. In elementary school in Pasadena, where she grew up, Otto found that she liked inventing stories. However, it would be years before she decided on a writing career.

After finishing high school, she attended the University of the Pacific’s Raymond College, then San Diego State University, and finally the University of California, Irvine, where, five weeks before she was to graduate with a major in history, she discovered that she wanted only to write.

Immediately Otto dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco, where she did various odd jobs and even peddled one-page essays on street corners. For five years she was a bookkeeper for two financial district dentists. Although she did some writing, she collected only rejection slips. At thirty, Otto returned to Irvine, obtained her B.A., and entered the Graduate School of Writing, which granted her an M.F.A. in 1990.

Meanwhile, in 1988, after seeing a television advertisement for a quilting program, Otto had decided to do some research on the craft, intending to use it in a short story for a writing workshop. As she developed her story, she found that it was taking shape as a collage, much...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cohen, Judith Beth. “At the Vanishing Point.” The Women’s Review of Books 11, nos. 10/11 (July, 1994): 46-47. Looks at Otto’s use of metaphor in Now You See Her and How to Make an American Quilt.

Hawthorne, Mary. “Stitching a Crazy Quilt.” The Times Literary Supplement 4608 (July 26, 1991): 19. Comments on the structure of How to Make an American Quilt and on its historical and sociological implications.

Lefcourt, Peter. “The Lady Vanishes.” The New York Times Book Review 143 (April 10, 1994): 11. Argues that Now You See Her lacks a unifying narrative structure and, as a result, is less effective than Otto’s first book.

McCorkle, Jill. “Cover Stories.” The New York Times Book Review 140 (March 24, 1991): 10. How to Make an American Quilt is seen as a collection of stories, which in the end fit together like the quilt the characters are making. Commends Otto for her dextrous handling of an “intricate design.”

Otto, Whitney. “Whitney Otto: A Transcendent Passion.” Interview by Roxane Farmanfarmaian. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 22 (June 2, 1997): 45-46. Otto discusses her beginnings as a writer, the surprising success of her first novel, and her approach to art. A revealing interview.

Steinberg, Sybil. Review of How to Make an American Quilt, by Whitney Otto. Publishers Weekly 238, no. 8 (February 8, 1991): 46. An insightful discussion of the novel, with emphasis on its themes.