Special thanks to Leah Cushman, my former Powell's Books cohort, who happened to mention her mother when I announced my departure to start traveling The Author's Road. – Salli

Karen quoted Ray Bradbury in a statement that really captured her sentiment on advice for writers:

"'To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. I wish for you a wrestling match with your creative muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolish and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria and out of it make fine stories. Which finally means may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days and out of that love remake the world.'"

writer interview: Karen Cushman, Authors Road

Vashon Island Ferry, Karen Cushman, Authors Road
On the Authors Road to Vashon Island

Otis, Karen Cushman's cat
Karen's writing partner and magic disappearing cat, Otis.
Is he examining a mouse?

Karen Cushman is the author of seven historical YA novels - many of them award winners - with an eighth due out soon. My daughter Cassidy and I read most of her books when Cassidy was in Middle School, and we both loved each novel. Our favorites were set in Medieval England and were filled with the sights, sounds and smells of everyday people during those extraordinary times. Her female characters are strong, beautifully flawed and transcend their own imperfections as well as societal constraints. The stories are interesting, well-researched and darned good reads.

Karen has two master's degrees, one in Museum Studies, which she also taught at John F. Kennedy University, and the other in human behavior. Her Stanford undergraduate degree is in Greek and English. She grew up writing, but stopped from the time she was in college until she was nearly 50. Although she was a 'late bloomer,' she has wasted no time in winning awards - including a Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal for her first two books. And how did she come to bloom? Here goes:

Karen: "Listen to this! I've got a great idea for a story."

Philip (her husband): "You've been saying that for 25 years now and I've never seen a word. This time I refuse to listen. But I'll read it, if you'll write it down."

Karen: "Once I had some words on paper, I felt committed to it. I want to know what happened . . . it's almost like a logic problem. That was a really important step for me – getting something on paper."

Interviewing Karen felt like talking to an old friend. She is kind, patient and bright. And just in case any fans out there are reading this, she really wants a tee shirt that says "I'm a writer. I don't cook and I don't clean."

Low-Res Mobile Version of Interview

High-Res Version of Interview
(Embedded version below)

MP3 Audio File
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right click on the link if you are on a PC,
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Note: We seem to have too many zeros and not enough ones in the interview date on the film.
The interview was filmed on Oct. 12, 2011


Vashon Island, Washington

Run time:



Historical YA Fiction




Chicago/Los Angeles

Youthful influence:

Anything that could be read, but especially Elvis about whom she wrote a poem cycle called "In Defense of Elvis."

Influential books:

Heidi, Lois Lenski's books

Literary Habit:

Curled up in a big comfy chair in the living room, with the big comfy cat, Otis. Mostly daily.

Karen Cushman's writing space, Authors Road
Karen loves to write in her big comfy chair in the living room and at the dining room table nearby. She says, “I want to write right here, in the middle of all the action, where everything is going on.” This photo shows the manuscript for Will Sparrow's Roadcoming soon.

Awards & Honors

2007 Kerlan Award (University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collection)
2004 Washington State Book Award (Rodzina)
1996 Newbery Medal (The Midwife’s Apprentice)
1995 Newbery Honor (Catherine, Called Birdy)
John and Patricia Beatty Award (The Ballad of Lucy
Her books have also won the Carl Sandburg Award for Children's Literature, Best Books List of School Library Journal and for the American Library Association, Golden Kite Award, Bay Area Book Reviewer's Award for Children's Literature, Ten Best Books list of Parent's Choice Foundation, and the Cuffie Award from Publisher's Weekly.


Will Sparrow's Road (2012)
Alchemy and Meggy Swann (2010)
The Loud Silence of Francine Green (2006)
Rodzina (2003)
Matilda Bone (2000)
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (1996)
The Midwife's Apprentice (1995)
Catherine, Called Birdy (1994)

"People who wish to become writers need to read a lot and write a lot – and listen well . . . . I would like to see them embrace creativity and not what sells, to write with passion and not efficiency."

Karen Cushman: Historical Young Adult Fiction

Contact: info@authorsroad.com