Growing up in a blue-collar, Irish-Catholic family outside Boston, we always had books around our house, if little else. After graduating from High school, and not going immediately to college, I lost seven years-fighting alcoholism, drug addiction and depression. And I spent time committed to state mental hospitals in eastern Massachusetts. I remember rereadingMoby Dick during my last stay on a locked ward, and at the end, as Ishmael floated away from the wreckage on a coffin, I thought on some level that I might survive, too, and possibly live and bear witness to my life. I became straight and sober that summer, in 1978.
I studied English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, graduated With Distinction In English, with Senior Honors in Creative Writing, and had also contributed articles to the Boston Globe during college. I then worked two and a half years with deaf/blind, retarded adolescents-nearly all of whom had severe behavior problems-at the Perkins School for the Blind outside Boston. It was my way, I think, to give back something of what I received from social services agencies and my college teachers. And I continued to write fiction and non-fiction during this time.
In 1985, I was offered a fellowship to study in the MFA program at Cornell. After completing the degree and teaching for two years at Cornell, I've continued to live in Ithaca, doing free-lance writing, another year of work with the developmentally disabled, and magazine editing-trying to patch together enough paying work, but work that would also allow me at least some time to write fiction.
I won a grant in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1989, and was awarded a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford in 1990, but declined because of the cost of living in Palo Alto. I was nominated for a Whiting Writer's Award in 1995, was a finalist for a Saltonstall Foundation grant in 1996, and in the spring of 1996, was one of four finalists for an award given for distinguished experimental fiction by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for my novel The Stolen Child.
I write fiction because it's the best way I know to record and remember and make some kind of sense of the world as I've experienced it. I don't
know to what extent my work succeeds, but it matters to me that I at least try. It seems as though I've come a considerable distance from a childhood of some poverty and anguish, to the point where I can live to tell stories from a few of the darker sides of life.
Born in Newton, Mass., 1953, very Catholic family, parents were once involved with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, grew up in
a fairly blue-collar family-five kids, mother and father, both of whom worked, and an evil grandmother (kind of) and not so evil grandfather,
who lived on the first floor of our two-family house. (My mother had an astonishing, Dickensian childhood-born in Bellevue, orphaned in New York
City, went temporarily blind from congenital syphilis, was a nun for four years-but very smart, quite scarred but wonderful in her way.) Went to public schools. Did very poorly, though always read voraciously, and always wrote. Skipped school often. Did lots of drugs and drinking. After high school, had real serious substance abuse problems, very depressed; in detox, emergency rooms, psych wards, finally locked on the ward of a state mental hospital. Then got straight, sober, went to college, worked with deaf/blind, retarded kids, grad school, etc. I love my wife and children, history and literature, reading, sports, movies, my friends, Boston, Ithaca, New York City, most things Irish. I love to talk to strangers in diners and bus
stations and just about anywhere, though I should probably know better, given the subject of my novels.