CATHERINE REEF BIOGRAPHER AND RECIPIENT OF THE 2020 CHILDREN'S BOOK GUILD NONFICTION AWARDD
CATHERINE REEF award-winning author of biographies for young adults
Why do I write books for young people?
That's easy! No readers are more important than our young people. They deserve good books. As a writer, I do my very best to create books that will inform my readers and cause them to think--and that will also be fun to read.
I like to write about people. Some of my books are biographies. I have written about men and women who have enriched our world with their novels and poetry, writers such as Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and E.E. Cummings. I have also written about composers who have given us beautiful music, such as Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin. And I have explored the lives of people whose ideas have shaped the way we think--great minds like Sigmund Freud.
A biography looks at how one person meets life's challenges. My other books present groups of people whose lives were shaped by history: children of earlier generations who lived in orphanages; former slaves who built the African nation of Liberia; African Americans who defended the United States in war while they were denied freedom at home. How did these brave people respond? How did their actions change the course of events? The answers to these questions are often surprising and always enlightening.
Did I always want to write?
No! As a child I wanted to teach, like the many teachers in my family and the ones I knew in school. I didn't know it then, but I had already fallen in love with words and books. As I grew older, I understood that writing was the only work that would make me happy. I never became a classroom teacher, but I like to think that I teach through my books. I am always learning, too. A writer can never know everything about writing--there is always so much more to learn!
If I were to write my own biography, I might, very briefly, write something like this:
Catherine Reef was a happy child who liked to climb trees and walk through snowdrifts. The future author was born in New York City and grew up in Commack, Long Island, where new houses were springing up on old potato farms. So many families were moving to Commack that the community built more and more schools and shuffled pupils around when the existing ones got too full. The oldest of five children, Catherine attended three different elementary schools and two junior highs, although she lived in the same house from kindergarten through high school. She was a good student who liked English and art.
As a young woman, Catherine left Long Island and went far away to college. She graduated from Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington, with a degree in English. She began her career as a writer at Washington State, creating brochures for the College of Pharmacy and developing the university's first research magazine.
Catherine was married and the mother of a young son and living near the nation's capital when she began to write books for young people. She received her first important recognition, the Joan G. Sugarman Children's Book Award, for Walt Whitman, in 1996. Other honors followed, including the 2001 Sydney Taylor Award for Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind and a 2010 Golden Kite Honor Award for Ernest Hemingway: A Writer's Life. Her titles have consistently appeared on annual lists of "best" and "notable" children's books. She is a member of the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., Biographers International Organization, and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Today she lives in Maryland. Her son is all grown up. He is a musician and scholar.
Author Catherine Reef is proud of the success she has earned through hard work, and she looks toward the future. "I have so many ideas for books that I want to write, and I get most excited by what's next," she has said. "This is because I truly love my work."