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M.E. KERR  (A.K.A. MARY JAMES & VIN PACKER)

BIOGRAPHY I BOOKS I PRESENTATIONS I BOOK ORDERING

M. E. Kerr is one of the pen names used by Marijane Meaker, born May 27, 1927 in Auburn, NY to Ida T. and Ellis R. Meaker.  Other pen names include Ann Aldrich, Mary James, M. J. Meaker and Vin Packer. Raised in Auburn, Kerr was sent to Stuart Hall in 1943, a Virginia boarding school.  Later, she went to Vermont Junior College (1945), then the University of Missouri (1946-49), where she majored in English literature.  She then moved to New York where she roomed with some college friends. It was during this time she got her lucky break and sold her first writing piece.  After establishing her career as a writer, under various pen names, she was motivated and encouraged by her friend Louise Fitzhugh to embark on her career as M. E. Kerr.  She was also inspired to write young adult literature after reading Paul Zindel's The Pigman. Her first book as M. E. Kerr, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! was published in 1972.

After many years of living in New York City, M. E. Kerr decided to move to East Hampton, NY, where she presently resides and teaches writing classes at the Ashawagh Hall Writers' Workshop.  Her instructional book, Blood on the Forehead: What I Know About Writing (1998), arose in part from these experiences as a writing instructor. Notably, in 1993, M. E. Kerr received a lifetime achievement award in the form of the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. In 1990, M. E. Kerr wrote under the pen name of Mary James the first in a series of books geared at a slightly younger audience.  It wasn't until 1994, after her third book in the series, that she let her readers know on the cover she was also known as M. E. Kerr. These books, Shoebag, The Shuteyes, Frankenlouse and Shoebag Returns, have earned her an even bigger fan base.

As M. E. Kerr, she has written numerous works of fiction for adolescents.  Her young adult works are much acclaimed for their style, honesty and wit.  In her writing, she draws from memories of her youth, combining them with her active imagination and impressive research skills developed from her experiences in journalism.  These memories include her antics growing up in upstate New York - life with her parents and two brothers, her escapades with her friends - platonic and romantic, experiences at boarding school and being part of a sorority. She also finds inspiration in her experiences, observations and interactions as an adult. For example, Seaside, NY, the fictional setting for several of her books, is actually a community based on her own in East Hampton, NY.

The primary issues Kerr deals with in her books are the development and functions of the relationships between her characters.  The relationships that arise are familial, student-teacher, peer/friend and of course, romantic;  she often writes of first loves in general.  The themes that arise in her books are serious ones, though not without comic and entertaining aspects.  Kerr enjoys injecting humor into her writing - an element that is not lost on her audience, younger and older.  At the same time, her fresh perspective is mingled with recurring themes and personalities throughout her body of work, resulting in a sense of continuity and familiarity for her readers. Tolerance, prejudices, denial and acceptance of different kinds of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles and socio-economic statuses are topics apparent in all of her books. Class issues and classism are common underlying themes as Kerr often contrasts blue collar, middle class and upper class teens and families as well as the attitudes members of each class have about others.

Sexuality and sexual orientation are topics touched upon and explored in varying degrees of detail though never explicitly. Kerr has a way with words that is neither embarrassing nor patronizing when it comes to the subject of hormonal urges and desires. Her much-acclaimed Deliver Us From Evie directly raises many different areas and questions about sexual orientation. Evie's family is half in denial that she's in a meaningful romantic relationship with another young woman. The young man who fancies her thinks it's just a passing stage. Her mother looks for causes and sources to blame for Evie's preferences. For readers, themes of prejudice and tolerance will call out to them. And for gay and lesbian teens, situations and characters in some of Kerr's works might ring true with their own experiences. In 2007, she was among the recipients of the Alice B. Medal awards for outstanding writers of lesbian fiction.

In sum, M. E. Kerr keeps her readers on their toes with the introduction of thought-provoking issues and captivating characters and on the edge of their seats with anticipation for what she's going to come up with next.