As a Newman alumna, award-winning author Clare Vanderpool loves to return to Newman’s campus and speak to students.
In November, she did just that for education professors Janet Jump and Huachuan Wen’s classes.
“Many of my friends and teachers at Newman set me on a great path in life,” she said. “My education teachers Mary Therese Landreth and Sister Marita Rother; my English professor Deanna Zitterkopf; Tom McCarthy, without whom I may not have ended up at Newman; and other great teachers who created such a great environment of learning, friendship, calling all of us to be good stewards of our gifts and talents — Larry Heck, Ph.D., Surendra Singh, Ph.D., Sister Charlotte Rohrbach, and, finally, Sister Dolores Strunk who let me wander the bookshelves during my work study job in the library.”
After graduating in 1987, Vanderpool became the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita for several years. She got married in 1992, and she and her husband subsequently had four children.
Today, an excuse to return to Newman’s campus and speak to students brings her joy.
“I love just walking back on campus and remembering the wonderful experience I had there — living in the dorm, hanging out with friends, having wonderful teachers,” she said. “Probably my biggest gift in my writing life is I have a good memory. And I have great memories of my time at Newman.”
She added, “So getting to speak to students there today is always a treat. They are interested and engaged. I like talking about writing and books but usually share a bit of my own Newman experience. I hope what they gain from it is to enjoy their own experience there. Stay in the moment and create their own great memories.”
Success as a children’s book author
Receiving the John Newbery Medal for children’s literature is a big deal. And Vanderpool gets to claim it.
Vanderpool had worked long and hard to get a book published, so when her first book came out in October 2010, her cup was full.
“Then to get that phone call three months later that ‘Moon Over Manifest’ had received the Newbery Medal was shocking and overwhelming,” she said. “I could say that it’s validating, it’s an honor, it puts my book in the category with some of my all-time favorite books — ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins,’ ‘A Year Down Yonder’ — and those things are all true.”
The Newbery also created many opportunities for Vanderpool to speak at events across the country and travel to conferences and book events, where she’s met many authors and interested readers along the way.
“But mostly the way I view the Newbery is that it’s a gift,” she said. “It’s not something I set out to do, not something I earned. So really it was an experience of what I tell my kids all the time — work hard, enjoy what you’re doing and let life surprise you!”
Vanderpool’s path to authorship started way back during her childhood. In grade school, she loved her creative writing assignments.
“In fifth grade, we were supposed to write a paragraph about what we wanted to be when we grew up,” she recalled. “I said I wanted to be an author. This dream stayed on the back burner for many years, but when I had my first baby and quit my job I thought, now is the time when I can sit down and write.”
Of course, Vanderpool had no idea what it would be like to be a new mom, so her writing time happened in fits and starts for many years.
“I like to say I wrote during ‘Sesame Street,’ long homilies and long stop lights,” she joked. “Over time I studied the craft of writing and worked on doing what I loved to do in grade school — creating characters I love and making up stories.”
Vanderpool’s biggest goal right now is to finish her next book. She’s also enjoying this new stage of life with grown children and the opportunity to pursue new interests.
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