Karen Joy Fowler
I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine's Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative nursery school movement. Along with basketball, my family loved books. The day I got my first library card there was a special dinner to celebrate. And before I could read myself, I remember my father reading The Iliad to me, although really he was reading it to my older brother, I just got to be there. A shocking book! And I remember Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh in my father's voice and a bunch of other things that weren't movies yet. My parents strongly disapproved of the Disney version of things. Pooh believed in a spoonful of honey, but Mary Poppins did not.
I have great memories of Bloomington. Our block was packed with kids and we played enormous games that covered whole blocks of territory, with ten kids to a side. One of my childhood friends was Theodore Deppe, who's now an outstanding poet. I planned to grow up to be a dog trainer myself.
Both my parents were raised in southern California and so regarded our time in Indiana as an exile. When I was 11 years old my father was offered a job with Encyclopedia Britannica that necessitated our moving to Palo Alto, California. My parents were thrilled to be coming back. My older brother, for reasons that escape me, was equally pleased. I was devastated.
Palo Alto was much more sophisticated than Bloomington. At recess in Bloomington we played baseball, skipped rope, played jacks or marbles depending on the season. In Palo Alto girls my age were already setting their hair, listening to the radio, talking about boys. I considered it a sad trade. The best thing about the sixth-grade was that my teacher, Miss Sarzin, read The Hobbit to us.
After reading many more books, I graduated from Palo Alto High in 1968 and went to Berkeley. I was a political science major and an antiwar activist. I was in Berkeley during People's Park, when the city was occupied and there were tanks on the street corners, and I was there during the Jackson State/Kent State killings. I met my husband there. He'd been part of the free speech movement; that was my idea of glamor. We got married the year I graduated and we came to graduate school at UC Davis together.
As an undergraduate I had a special interest in India and Gandhi, and a general interest in imperialism. I find the intersection of cultures fascinating, the misunderstandings that occur, the mistakes that are innocently made. I'm not so fascinated by the mistakes that aren't innocent, although there are a good many more of the latter kind. As a graduate student I focused on China and Japan. It's not clear to me what my career goals were — whatever, I had my first child during spring break of the last year of my masters. Six days less than two years later I had a second child. My husband and I still live in Davis, although the kids have left for college and beyond.
I decided to try to be a writer on my 30th birthday.
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