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Writer & Illustrator


Emily Arnold McCully was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in

1939, but grew up in Garden City, New York. Her father was

a writer for network radio shows, and her mother was an

actress and singer. It was her mother who inspired her

artistic abilities as a child. "She saw that I was trying to

draw people and objects, and set me to practicing for

accuracy," Ms. McCully says. "She saw my ability to draw

as a skill, a talent to be developed so that it might support

me some day."

As a child, Emily Arnold McCully doodled and sketched and

created her own stories, binding them into books. As class artist in school, she designed posters, backdrops, and programs for concerts and plays. During high school, she often visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and sketched people in Union Square. The city fueled her ambitions for an active life in the arts, theater, and publishing.

She attended Pembroke College (now part of Brown University), but instead of studying drawing, she devoted her time to theater, reading, and art history. "I was tired of the freakishness that seemed to be part of being an artist. For years, people stood around me as I drew, marveling that I could reproduce someone or something. I decided to throw myself into other activities, which I hadn't done before."

But after graduation, she ended up as a quasi-secretary in an advertising agency. She also earned an M.A. in art history at Columbia. Finally, realizing she had no future in the advertising agency, she put together a portfolio of drawings and took it around to all sorts of art directors. Gradually, jobs trickled in, mostly for book covers. Finally, an editor at Harper and Row Junior Books spotted a poster she had done that featured children. She received her first book illustration assignment, which led to another, and so on.

Meanwhile, she wrote fiction and published a short story that was selected for the O'Henry Collection. It was followed by two novels. She has now produced more than one hundred books for children.

"My advice for aspiring artists and writers is this,' she says. "Don't worry about what other people are doing. Don't try to emulate. Work from what is inside you, crying out, however softly, however timidly, for expression."

Ms. McCully feels strongly that books should stir the imagination, and she abhors those who would make all books merely palliative or instructive. Like Issac Bashevis Singer, she too believes that children's books are the last refuge of storytelling.

Among the awards she has won, Ms. McCully has received a Christopher Award for Picnic, the Caldecott award for Mirette on the High Wire, and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award in the Books for Younger Children category for The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom.

Emily Arnold McCully lives in New York.