Acclaimed Children’s Writer Amy Friedman Interviewed

Good day Amy and thank your for agreeing to participate in our interview. Good day, Norm, and thanks a million for having me. Amy, please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. What is your background in children’s literature? I think the road to writing for an audience of children began when I was a kid living in a house with two reading-addicted parents. When I was about 12, I wrote my first short story, and I decided right then and there that I wanted to be a writer, though like all writers lives, the road to here has taken many surprising turns. I studied English at Barnard College, with a minor in creative writing. In those days I wrote only fiction, and in the late ‘70s, I went to City College for an MFA in writing because Donald Barthleme, a writer I admire enormously, was teaching there.

He truly was the person who taught me how to write well, how to work hard, and how, too, to take deep pleasure in writing. In the mid-80s my life took one of those glorious turns that feeds a writers imagination and nourishes the soul. Id lived in Manhattan for nearly 15 years, but I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to a sheep farm outside—OUTSIDE—of Gananoque, Ontario. I adored the farm and discovered a marvelous the newspaper published in nearby Kingston. Then owned and run independently, The Kingston Whig-Standard published a stunning magazine, and this is where, ultimately, Tell Me A Story and my close involvement with childrens literature began. I still had no idea that ultimately I would be writing for children in those first years on the newspaper. I had, though, expanded from writing strictly fiction to writing nonfiction, personal essay, and plays. Will you share a little bit about Tell Me A Story with us? One day in the early ‘90s I approached our editor, Neil Reynolds, and told him I thought the newspaper needed something for kids. Id loved newspapers when I was young.

Neil was all for it and told me to go figure out what this new feature should be and let him know. There was a fabulous childrens librarian in the Kingston Public Library, Mary Beaty, and she spent hours leading me through old books of folklore. As we talked, I began to remember how much Id always loved mythology, and when Mary showed me a version of the Finnish epic, The Kalevala and some old Chinese folktales Id never known existed, I was hooked. Mary also led me to the Toronto Public Library collection in the Boys and Girls House, a collection established in 1922, the first childrens library in the British Empire. The Toronto Public Librarys relationship to childrens literature is a great story in itself, but thats for another day. Long story a little shortened, Mary also introduced me to Jillian Gilliland who by then had illustrated more than 20 childrens books. Universal signed me to write ONE story each week, Jillian to illustrate, in color, and Tell Me A Story was born. It quickly caught fire and was soon running in hundreds of papers around the world.

We lost many of our clients when newsprint doubled in price in the mid-90s (the column takes up lots of space), but we still run in about 100 papers (the numbers vary monthly), even as far away as China. The column has generated two books—Tell Me A Story and The Spectacular Gift, but Id always wanted to make an audio version. In my life outside of Tell Me A Story I teach creative nonfiction and personal essay writing at UCLA, and through this work, and through my writing and performing personal essays, Ive met dozens of extraordinarily talented actors. How did you go about choosing the stories and music to be included in Tell Me A Story? When I decided I was going to produce the CD on my own, I knew Id need partners. First my husband, Dennis Danziger, a writer and teacher, enthusiastically joined me, but he wanted to be a sort of silent partner. I had performed in a spoken word venue known as Melt in Your Mouth which is produced by Lori Ada Jaroslow and had so admired her work, both as producer and as a director, I invited her to co-produce. She was immediately intrigued.