FACETIME- MN8U4EA: Erskine named National Book Award finalist

Kathy Erskine

Kathryn Erskine has one of those annoying license plates that you can't ignore until you figure it out: MN8U4EA. It says a lot about her in an erudite, pay-it-forward way, and while she definitely has a reason to "emanate euphoria," she emanates plenty of calm about being named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for her book, Mockingbird.

William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, and Jonathan Franzen are past National Book Award winners, and Nicole Krauss is among this year's nominees. Erskine says she does look forward to meeting the other 19 writers nominated in four categories when she goes to New York November 16. All the finalists will get a medal and their books will forever bear the seal, "National Book Award Finalist." Unless, of course, they're the winner.

Mockingbird is the story of a girl with Asperger's Syndrome whose brother is killed in a school shooting.

"It's a mature theme," says Erskine, who suggests it for fifth graders or age 10 and up. "I think it depends on the kid."

The book came about as "part of my processing the Virginia Tech shootings," says Erskine. She's also processed apartheid in South Africa in another book, Ibhubesi: The Lion, a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of an American boy. In another, Quaking, she sends a Goth-like teen to live with Quakers.

Her insights into apartheid come from living in South Africa as a child, and it took her awhile to understand that she was American. Her father was in the foreign service, and she was born in the Netherlands, and lived in Israel, Scotland and Newfoundland as well. She believes her international background causes her to look at things from different perspectives. 

"She can nail a character's voice and carry it through an entire novel without wavering," praises author Jennifer Elvgren, who's in a critique group with Erskine. "She's one of the finest writers I know."

Erskine, 52, is also a real cheerleader, encouraging her fellow writers, says Elvgren.

"I went through years of rejection," confesses Erskine. "I was about to give up on writing and went to a conference–- I'd already paid for it–- and there was an inspirational speaker who said, don't ever give up." Along with improving one's writing over time, the speaker pointed out that other writers will fall by the wayside, thus narrowing the field. That speaker became Erskine's editor at Philomel, a Penguin imprint.

Erskine started out as a lawyer, and always thought she'd write only after retiring.

"When my mother died in her '60s," says Erskine, "I realized I'd better get started."

Writer's block is not a problem for Erskine, who has another book, The Absolute Value of Mike, set to come out in June, and others she's completed or honing. 

So why write for kids, young adult though they may be?

"I love that age group," she enthuses. "They're leaving childhood behind and starting into the grownup world. It's a rebirth."



I was at that workshop with Kathy. I remember so well the voice she brought to her writing. I am thrilled to see the success she is experiencing now.

She is truly a world citizen, something that comes through in her stories.

As a grandfather of 1 girl and 2 boys I will use your site for helping me in selecting books for them. Also proud you like I was born in The Netherlands and hope your book wil be translated into "nederlands" and have many readers. We have close friends with a boy of 12 with Asperger syndrome and it takes a lot of love and patience to cope with this great kid.