Val Howlett has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her fiction has appeared in Lunch Ticket and Hunger Mountain, and she is a recipient of the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA.


The Long Version

My story starts like that of many writers—I grew up devouring children’s books and making up elaborate fantasy worlds of my own, which I’d force my younger siblings to act out with me through playing pretend. But a real turning point for me was in college, when I set out to write an adapted fairy tale for my youngest sister, who was turning nine years old.

At the time, I was taking creative writing classes, but wasn’t doing well in them. I tried to imitate the few short stories for adults that I had read in English classes, but there was always a missing spark, a grasp at depth. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t know how to be an adult. But the story I wrote for my kid sister, a retelling of Rapunzel involving magic and humor and a modern-day Connecticut setting, invigorated me. I spent way more time on it than I’d spent on any school assignment. I researched different cultures’ version of Rapunzel and enhanced my story with elements from folklore.

The college I went to (Hampshire College) had a hippie-style structure where you could design your own major. I majored in children’s stories, which included theater for young audiences and a study of children’s literature. I researched fairy tales and wrote my own adaptations, and I read incredible children’s books that I had missed as a kid: The Tale of Despereaux and Weetzie Bat and Annie on My Mind.

After some false post-grad starts (including a failed stint as a children’s theatre actor in the Midwest), I was lucky enough to get an assistant job in children’s book publishing. Publishing has become a huge part of my life—I am fascinated by the business side of how books make it to their readers. A few years into that life, I went to grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I studied under some children’s literature greats and found an intelligent, supportive writing community.

These days, I live with my wife-to-be, the brilliant Carmen Maria Machado, in a quirky old apartment in West Philly. I try to balance my time between working as the Children’s Publicity and Marketing Manager at Running Press and finishing my own novel, historical fiction about suffrage and queerness in 1913 Philadelphia. I’m not great at the balance thing, but I’m trying. And I know that to be able to work in a job I love and also write fiction makes me very, very lucky.




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