Questions and answers with the author
1. Where are you from? What’s your family and hometown background?
I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 30, 1950. My father is a musicologist -- a historian of music -- and taught at the University of Michigan during my childhood. He later went to Hunter College in Manhattan, then to Brooklyn College, where he founded the Institute for Studies in American Music. My mother was educated as a pianist but worked from my teenage years on as a research administrator at the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor during the 1960s was an exciting place and time to grow up. Even while in high school I spent a lot of time on the University of Michigan campus. Those were the days of SNCC, Tom Hayden, student protests, sit-ins, and demonstrations. Although I was not intensely political, I thrived in an environment of outspoken beliefs and passion over principle.
2. What is your education history?
I attended the University of Michigan from 1967 to 1972, receiving an honors B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature. As an undergraduate, I considered linguistics and education as well as English as my majors -- and they are interests that stay with me to the present day. I wrote an honors English thesis on an elegy sometimes attributed to John Donne, arguing that in fact it could not have been written by him. By the time I was pursuing a master’s degree, my interest had focused on the English Romantic poets. My master’s thesis, called “The Stone of the Romantic Philosophers,” compared the imagery of medieval alchemy to the theories of the imagination as described by Coleridge and Shelley. After three years of work, I returned to graduate work in English, still fascinated by the Romantics. I completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Virginia in 1978, working particularly with E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Nathan Scott, and Paul Cantor. My dissertation was titled Shelley’s Sense of the Human Divine. In it, I used ideas from 20th-century psychologists of religion, namely William James and Rudolph Otto, to suggest that Percy Bysshe Shelley underwent a religious experience but refused to use traditional language and imagery to describe it.
3. What is your work history?
I moved from Ann Arbor in 1972 to New York City, where I held two editorial assistant jobs in the book publishing industry. First, I worked as editorial assistant to Jeannette Hopkins, a nonfiction editor, at Harper & Row, Publishers. Her authors included Dick Gregory, Ben Bradlee, and James Macgregor Burns. I also worked for Sara Stein and Carter Smith at Media Projects Inc., a small publishing and packaging firm dedicated to children and parenting. While I was there, we worked on products for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. You might say that some of my first writing jobs were to ghostwrite books and articles signed by Fred Rogers.
Once I completed my Ph.D., I made the decision to return to writing and editing for the larger public rather than academic writing and teaching. I did, however, teach part-time for a decade. I was assistant professor in the Division of Humanities of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. We humanities faculty members taught courses specially designed for engineering undergraduates, to help them write and speak more clearly and to guide them in knowing and appreciating the links between their technical education and the realm of culture and the liberal arts. It was during that time that I became fascinated with the history of the myth of Frankenstein.
Since 1978, when I received my Ph.D., and even during the years that I taught humanities, I continued writing and editing. I wrote three books in the early 1980s, then (pausing from book authorship to raise a family) many articles, brochures, and newsletters, before returning to books in the mid-1990s. Since then I have written books continuously, sometimes on topics assigned by publishers and sometimes on topics from my own heart and imagination.
In 2007, after five years of rewarding freelance work with them, I joined the National Geographic Society as a book editor.