Stephanie Kate Strohm is not only the author of two great books, Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and Confederates Don’t Wear Couture, but also a Great Books alum! This summer, she is coming back to Amherst to share how she started her writing career, but first we sat down with her to chat about the role literature has played in her life:
GBSP: What role did literature play in your childhood?
A huge one! The library was absolutely one of my favorite places. Every summer I would give myself projects, like “read every book in the folk tales and fairy tales section” or “read everything you can find about Anastasia and the Romanovs.” From the moment I learned how to read I constantly had a book in my hands. Sometimes it got me into trouble – like when I tried to use my Nancy Drew skills to start picking locks!
GBSP: Did any parent, teacher, program foster a love of books and literature?
My parents always encouraged my love of books. Some of my best early memories are of my dad reading The Little Mermaid and my mom reading the Little House books to me. Thanks to them, I always had plenty of reading material. And I definitely have to thank Mr. Burns and Ms. Schwartz, two of my high school English teachers, who encouraged my passion for literature and taught me how to look at it with a critical eye.
GBSP: What was your favorite book as a teenager? Which writers inspired you?
As a teenager, I was absolutely obsessed with Wuthering Heights. The passion, the drama, the romance, the moors! I was also really into Ann Rinaldi, and the fact that she was able to write about so many different historical time periods, and made them feel so alive.
GBSP: Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I didn’t – I wanted to be an actress! I had always loved reading, but I’d never thought of pursuing a career as a writer. I went to college for theater and moved to New York after graduation to be in an off-Broadway play. I didn’t start writing until I was traveling around the country as part of a children’s theater tour, and I ended up completely falling in love with writing. When I realized I was enjoying writing in the hotel lobby more than I was enjoying performing on stage, I knew it was time to consider a career change.
GBSP: If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
Finish the things you start working on. Of course, it’s hard to say when something is ever really “finished”, but I think there is great value in completing a piece that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You get such a sense of accomplishment.