Kathi Appelt’s Biography

I was born on July 6, 1954 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. My father, Bill Cowgill, was stationed in the Army there, a kathimember of the 82nd Airborne. He and my mother, Patricia, were both still teenagers when I made my fortuitous appearance. By fortuitous I mean that I couldn’t wait to get to the hospital and was born instead in the front seat of my father’s Ford. Waiting is still not my strong suit!

We only lived in North Carolina for a short time and then moved to El Paso, TX and finally to Houston. Both of my younger sisters, Patti and B.J., were born there, and Houston is where we grew up.

In our house on Mayo Avenue, we had a garage with unfinished sheet rock on the inside walls. On one side of the garage was my dad’s work bench where he kept all his tools. But the other side was just a big blank wall. My mother divided it into three sections. As soon as my sisters and I could hold crayons, we were allowed to express ourselves on that wall in any color or form that we wished.

If you stood back and looked at the wall, it was like a record of my growing up. Down at the bottom was just a lot of scribbling, but as I grew, the drawing took on new and clearer forms. You could tell the drawings that were done when I was happy from the ones I did when I was sad or angry. The garage wall was a perfect place for expression. Once I started actually writing, on paper, I no longer needed the wall. But I still think of it as the place where my earliest writing took place. It was like my first journal, a record of my feelings and experiences.

I still keep a journal. Like the garage wall, it’s a place for catching all my thoughts, and sometimes my dreams. It’s often the first place that the idea for a new story or poem occurs. Because I don’t have any particular rules about writing in my journal, sometimes I’m surprised by what shows up!

Most of my books and poems come directly from my own life because that’s what I know best and feel most strongly about.

I used to think that a real writer had to have lots of exciting, maybe even dangerous, adventures in order to have something meaningful to write about. Now I know that the best writing is about the people, places, pets, and objects that surround us and that we meet every day. I’ve discovered that writing about them is the absolute best way to really know them and in the process to come to know ourselves a little better. I now know that writing is really a way of seeing. I’d like to encourage you to get out your old journal or start a new one and see what shows up.

Even better, find a bare garage wall and go for it.