A master of fiction for young adult, middle-grade, and even adult readers, the authors known as Mary James, M.E. Kerr, Ann Aldrich, M.J. Meaker, and Vin Packer were all born Marijane Meaker in 1927. “The idea of a pen name always fascinated me,” she explains, “because it is your only chance to name yourself. Sometimes when I am giving writing workshops for kids, I get them to name themselves. I think everybody likes disguises.” James grew up in upstate New York, and memories of a childhood spent with her parents and two brothers and in boarding school in Virginia have been transformed into material for many of her books. After graduating from the University of Missouri, James moved to New York City and began her career writing suspense novels for adults.
James never considered writing for young adults until her friend Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy, pointed out that the protagonists of her adult novels already fit in that age group. She remained unconvinced that she could really write for young adults until she read Paul Zindel's The Pigman; her first YA novel, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, written shortly thereafter, became the first of many books that would give her a reputation as one of the pioneers in realistic fiction for young adults. In 1993 she was awarded the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award, presented by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, in recognition of her body of work. Around that same time, she published the first of her novels for younger readers, the critically acclaimed Shoebag.
James continues to write for all age groups, on all subjects, in a signature style that combines realism and topicality with humor and sensitivity. She also teaches writing classes at the Ashawagh Hall Writers' Workshop near her home in East Hampton, New York.