I was born and brought up in Decatur, Illinois, the real Illinois a long way from Chicago. Back then, a boy knew when his adolescence was over. A notice to that effect came through the mail, from the draft board. And so I was a soldier in Germany, ghost-writing sermons for chaplains — my first writing job. I”d been a student in England too, and so I came of age in other countries.
I live in one now, a third-world sort of island called Manhattan that knows very little about the real America, let alone the real Illinois.
Here in this exile I have reached the age of nostalgia. My four most recent novels have settings that celebrate the world I first saw. Strays Like Us is a very contemporary story about a girl being fostered in one of those small, old-fashioned towns where it”s hard to be a stranger. A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, two books that have changed my life, are set in the farm town where my father grew up. Grandma Dowdel”s house is the house where my grandmother lived: a tall jigsaw gothic with lighting rods. My newest novel is Fair Weather in which three farm kids see the future unfolding before them at the Chicago World”s Fair of 1893.
I caught my first glimpses of the world and the future in books. Here in some other century I hope young readers still do.