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Jandy Nelson

As a Child

I was born in New York, lived outside of the city until I was ten. From that time, I remember these positively bursting purple peonies outside the house that were larger than I was. Always. No matter how big I got, they got bigger. I remember my mother’s mad manic love for Madeline and how reading anything else was a subversive act on my part, especially my favourite Harold and the Purple Crayon. I remember worshipping my big noisy brothers, sitting alone in sunny fields, going to Manhattan every weekend to see my dad. It was in this house that my oldest brother, who was and is quite a mad scientist, had pyramids in the basement, just like Uncle Big in Sky. My grandmother also lived in this town, and she, like Gram in my novel, painted lots of green people and lined her walls with them. It’s because of her I became a superstitious nut. She taught me to knock wood, throw salt, talk to the dead—discretely, so as to pass as a sane member of society—and the fail-proof method for finding four-leaf clovers in any patch.

I moved to California with my mother when I was twelve and the whole world tipped over. We lived on a canyon and could see a piece of the ocean from our house. We were at the end of the continent, teetering on faulty ground. Light poured out of the sky. I couldn’t believe any of it. It was love at first sight and I’ve remained true to California since. I had incredible English teachers in high school, read fanatically, made lasagnes in a deli window like Lennie in Sky, and somehow decided then I wanted to be a poet, a most practical decision. I think my parents thought I’d grow out of it, but alas.

As an Adult

I went to Cornell University in upstate NY where I studied creative writing and comparative literature, then studied French literature and literary theory in Paris for a year through the Sorbonne, then off to graduate school in poetry at Brown University, and then years and years later, I went to graduate school again, in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I love being in school as well as teaching. I’m concocting a plan to go back again, to study art history this time.

I live in San Francisco where I’ve been a literary agent for thirteen years representing amazing authors writing for adults, but had no idea what was going on in the world of children’s literature until I went back to graduate school. I’d never written a word of fiction before that either, only poetry. But in school, I read a ton of YA verse novels and other YA and middle grade novels as well. I was blown away by the vibrancy of voices like Laurie Halse Anderson’s, Francesca Lia Block’s, Sharon Creech’s, by the experimentation going on with form, by the overall urgency of the storytelling. I decided I would try to write a YA novel. I had an idea for a story and an image that wouldn’t let me go. The image was of this grief-stricken girl scattering her poems all over a town, the germ for The Sky Is Everywhere. I wanted to write about the intricacies and complexities of grief, and I also wanted to write a first love story—so, a novel in which joy and sorrow cohabitate in very close quarters.

As an Artist

I wrote The Sky Is Everywhere like a banshee, wrote a mess of a first draft in five months, then ten more drafts in the next two years, before sending it out to agents. I was a shut-in, completely lost in the story, obsessed with bringing it to life. What’s so odd is that despite the subject matter, writing Sky was the happiest time of my life. I was falling in love with writing fiction so that in itself was a joy. But more importantly, I feel like I discovered over and again by writing the book the same thing Lennie discovered within the book, that grief and love are conjoined and you can’t have one without the other, and that somehow love is eternal. I think that’s very hopeful and it filled me with hope as I was writing it and discovering it with Lennie.

Things you didn't know about Jandy Nelson

  1. I am the most frightened person on the airplane, without a doubt—that’s me there, head between my legs in the crash position, while everyone else is enjoying their lunch.
  2. My favourite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez but Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and The Waves are close seconds.
  3. I like very clunky high-heel shoes as well as clunky jewellery. I also suddenly realize I like the word clunky.
  4. I go to many movies in a row—just me and a huge tub of popcorn in the dark. I also really like to look at paintings and swoon. For hours. And out windows.
  5. I love giraffes. Seriously, think they’re such a wonder. And rivers, and rainstorms. And super hot weather. Hate spiders--insects profoundly freak me out.
  6. I have a useless superpower—I can catch anything as it’s falling, even if I’m looking the other way: wine glasses by their stems, etc. It makes dinner parties very exciting.
  7. I love to be madly, passionately, ridiculously, out-of-my-mind, out-of-my-tree in love. (Though you might have surmised this from reading my novel.)
  8. I believe every day is a miracle.
  9. This quote by John Keats is a favourite: “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of the imagination.”
  10. I am just crazy about finger-foods, wish for every meal, a guy would show up with a cocktail tray full of scrumptious appetizers, and actually while we’re at it: flutes of champagne!

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Jandy Nelson



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