A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
I was born on February 11, 1939 in New York City at Beth Israel Hospital, the first child of my parents, Isabel Berlin Yolen and Will Hyatt Yolen. Because my grandmother Mina Hyatt Yolen’s family, the Hyatts, only had girls, a number of us were given their last name as a middle name to carry it on. So I am Jane Hyatt Yolen, and my brother, Steven Hyatt Yolen, was born three and a half years later. Alas, we are no relation to the Hyatt Hotels, no matter how often I have tried to convince the staffs there.
My father was a café journalist at the time, writing columns for the New York newspapers. He’d been a police reporter before that. My mother was a psychiatric social worker until I was born. After that, she never held another full-time out of the home paid job (though she did volunteer work), but wrote short stories that didn’t sell and crossword puzzles and acrostics that did.
When my father got a higher paying job, being a publicity flack for Hollywood movies, we moved to California. I was barely one. We stayed there for a couple of years while he worked on such movies as “American Tragedy” and “Knut Rockne” (“Let’s win one for the Gipper” Starring Ronald Reagan.)
We came back to New York City in time for the birth of my brother Steve, after which Daddy went into the army as a Second Lieutenant and was shipped off to England for World War II. Mommy and Stevie and I spent the war years in Newport News with her mom and dad, Grandma Fanny and Grandpa Dan. Meanwhile Daddy served as head of ABSIE, the secret radio in London, but was wounded in the buzz bombs and came home a hero. He told me that he’d won the war single-handedly, and I believed him.
Back to New York where we lived on Central Park West and 97th Street until I turned thirteen. I went to PS 93, where I was a gold star kid, writing up a fury and singing with my pals Sue Hodes (who is now a well known painter) and Sue Levitt (who is now Susan Stamberg of NPR radio) and others. I took piano lessons, and studied ballet at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. Then I tested and got into Hunter Junior High School and discovered that there were a lot of gold star girls all over the city. What a shock! I had to work hard just to stay in the middle of the class.
During this time, my brother and I created a newspaper for our apartment. We wrote all the articles and interviewed our neighbors. My mother typed up the copies (this was long before either computers or indeed xerox machines, so the copies were made with carbon copy paper) and we sold the things for five cents each to the same neighbors we’d interviewed. Five cents bought a lot of candy and comic books back in the day.
Two years later, I tested and got into Music and Art High School and was looking forward to starting in the fall. That summer, like the summer before, my brother and I went off to camp in Vermont. I went to the girls camp, Indianbrook, and he went to the boy’s camp, Timberlake. (It’s still a going concern called Farm & Wilderness.) A Quaker camp, it was the first time I got to be involved with the Society of Friends, which I was to join years later. I also got my first kiss from a boy, named Paul Gordon, who also happened to be my third or fourth cousin.
My parents had other plans for us. That summer, without telling us, they bought a house in Westport, Connecticut. Our Aunt Isabelle and Uncle Harry came for us and brought us to the new house. What a surprise! It was a large ranch house set on a couple of acres. A girl just a grade below me, Carol Tropp, lived next door with her parents and younger sister. And off I went to Bedford Junior high for ninth grade, and then Staples High School. I sang in the choir, was captain of the girl’s basketball team, won the debate awards, was News Editor of the school paper, vice president of the Spanish and Latin Clubs … a gold star kid.
I graduated seventh in my class. If I had worked hard, I might have been third. Then I might have gotten into my first choice college— Radcliffe. As it was I was accepted at Oberlin, Wellesley, and Smith. I chose Smith. It was to be a fortuitous choice.
At Smith College, I discovered (again) that all the gold star girls around America were there. I had to work hard just to stay in the middle of the class. But by the end of my four years, I was president of the Press Board, won all the poetry writing awards, the journalism award—and wrote the lyrics to the class musical as well as starred in our senior show, singing a song that got a standing O. I didn’t have the highest grades, but I wrote a book of poetry, many poems of which were published in various small journals like The Grecourt Review, and i.e and the Chicago Jewish Forum.
After college, I moved to New York City and became an editor—writing during lunch breaks and evenings and weekends. I considered myself a poet and a journalist/nonfiction writer. But to my surprise, I became a children’s book writer, selling my first book on a cold February day. My 22nd birthday, as a matter of fact. It was called Pirates in Petticoats.
I love being a writer. In 2018, I celebrated #Yolen365 in which my 365thbook (yes, that is a Yolen book for every day of the year) was published. Actually, 365 and 366 published on the same day. Since then, that number has grown to 378.
I married David W. Stemple in 1962. He and I had three children and six grandchildren. Alas, he died of cancer in March, 2006 after 44 years of a wonderful marriage. I live in Western Massachusetts right next door to my marvelous daughter Heidi (the little girl in OWL MOON). My sons live far away with their families, Adam in Minneapolis, Jason in Charleston, SC. I also have a house in Scotland where I live for part of the year.
Now for the surprise–as much for me as my readers! Eight months before Covid, and 15 years after David died, out of the blue, an old college boyfriend and now widower, Peter Tacy, sent me a copy of a wonderful New Yorker article about three of my Holocaust novels. We re-met at the Emily Dickinson House, became close friends, and then declared ourselves married. We spent the first three months of the pandemic at his house and it became clear that we belonged together. We have written and published a book of poems together—The Black Dog Poems—and a bunch of as-yet unsold children’s books.
THE ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY
Born 2/11/39 in New York City. I am told I can still be identified by this picture.
|Parents: Will and Isabelle Yolen
Dad played the guitar like a ukele and the piano only on the black keys. Mother was a soprano until she lost her singing voice in her 40s. We never knew why.
|Brother: Steven Hyatt Yolen born 11/4/42. Here we are mugging for the photographer on the piano bench in our New York apartment.
|Jane and Mike Lieber during the Smith College years. He went to nearby Trinity College. We sang together though never really dated. He is a professor of anthropology in Chicago. We are still good friends.
|Yes, I wrote poetry at Smith College. And could sit on my hair. Well, it was the beginning of the ’60s after all.
|On graduation day, Smith College, Northampton, MA 1960. I still hate to wear heels.
Jane in the early sixties, photographs by my fiancee David Stemple.
|Married 9/2/62 to David W. Stemple
Family on the verge of teenage and other chasm (1979)
Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple 7/1/66, 2 children
Adam Douglas Stemple 4/30/68 married to Elizabeth (Betsy) Pucci, 2 children
Jason Frederic Stemple 5/21/70, married to Joanne Lee (lower right-hand corner), 2 children
Glendon, Maddison, Ariel, David, Caroline, & Amelia
|Team Stemple at full strength
© 2003 by Janine Norton
Newest additions: Twin girls. Caroline and Amelia
Nana with yet another David
Nana with all the grandkids as of 2002
Some of the men in my life: David, David and Adam
“Pa” from Owl Moon with friend
David W. Stemple
July 31, 1937 – Mar. 22, 2006
Husband, Father, Papa
Scientist, scholar, teacher
mentor, linguist, bird recordist
“The man who knew everything”
My Writer’s Group in 2014
A lot of books, a lot of awards, and a whole lot of love.
Books: Over 400!
Past President: Science Fiction Writers of America
Board of Directors (now retired): Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for 25+ years