Jane Kurtz spent most of her childhood in Ethiopia and now lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she teaches in the English department at the University of North Dakota, writes books and magazine articles and a weekly column about children's books, and speaks around the region. Of all the things she writes, she loves children's books best and has sold nine of them in the last four years. Fire on the Mountain (Simon & Schuster, 1994) and Pulling the Lion's Tail (Simon & Schuster, 1995) are re-tellings of folk tales she heard as a child in Ethiopia. Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun (Houghton, 1996) is a re-telling of an Inca folktale. Trouble (Harcourt, spring 1997) is set in Eritrea, one of the newest countries of the world. Only a Pigeon (Simon & Schuster, spring 1997) is set in the contemporary city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She also has books coming out that are set in places like North Carolina, Ghana, and the Sudan, and she's interested in life all around the world (and inside it).
Jane Kurtz comments on the writing of her first novel. Even after I had several books published that were set in Ethiopia, where I had spent most of my childhood, I still resisted telling part of the story. When people asked me, “What about the starving children?” I always pointed out the Ethiopia of my childhood was not a place of starvation and war. I resisted writing about that part of my Ethiopian memories until I was haunted by two girls: I was reading an ethnography of the Kemant (or Qemant) community in northern Ethiopia and was intrigued by the comment that the Kemant say Ethiopian Jews (people they call “Falasha”) are “buda,” or possessed of the evil eye, while other ethnic groups think the Kemant are “buda.” What if a girl, growing up in a sheltered Kemant community, was suddenly thrown into the wide world and found that the same prejudice she'd been taught to direct toward others was unthinkingly directed toward her? The other character came to me when I read one sentence in a nonfiction book, a gathering of survival stories of Ethiopian Jews who fled Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s. That sentence talked about a blind girl who walked all the way to the Sudan with her hand on her brother's shoulder. When I'm haunted by characters, I write. But I didn't want to write a grim book, and I've been touched by kids who wrote to tell me that they loved the drama of the story and felt caught up in it, including the fourth grade boy who told me, “I love your book,” and ended his letter, “You have the coolest vocabulary ever!”