About Mary

When I entered the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I remember being entranced by an initial assignment: list my obsessions as a writer. Obsessions? It’s okay to talk about those?  My list spilled onto the page, and I keep adding to it. My writing obsessions include firefighters, nurses, cake, New York City history, poetry, libraries, families with GLBT parents, kids who just might grow up to be gay, and… candy.

I grew up in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, the middle kid between my older sister and younger brother. We lived not far from my grandmother (a nurse) and a multitude of aunts, uncles and cousins (lots of birthday cakes and parties!). There were many things I loved about growing up in the Bronx: riding bikes and eating black and white cookies with my best friend Wilfredo, playing street games like ace-king-queen and skully with kids from our apartment building, summer trips to Rockaway Beach, and visiting my father at Engine 90, the firehouse where he worked.

As a firefighter’s kid I enjoyed special privileges, like trying on the gear, climbing into the fire truck, and clanging the big silver bell. It was a special world that my sister and brother and I loved being a part of. My father once helped save a fellow firefighter who was falling through a porch roof at a fire—and a photo of that moment was splashed on the front page of the Daily News, and years later, on the cover of a book!

All the seeds of my writing life were planted in the Bronx, where I created stories and poems, wrote and illustrated my own cartoons, and read piles and piles of books from the Jerome Park Library on Eames Place, near my grandmother’s apartment. I still love libraries; I do some of my best writing there.

An undergraduate degree in Communications, a Masters in Early Childhood Education, and many  moves later, I landed in Massachusetts. After teaching preschool in Boston, then kindergarten and special education in the public schools of Cambridge, MA, I moved to Cape Cod, continuing to write, teach, and read—children’s books, time-travel stories, poetry, and history.

I especially love New York City history, and the history of my own family there. My  grandmother became a nurse after she emigrated from Ireland to New York City. I know that my great-grandmother was a hat maker in Harlem. My great-grandfather was a stone cutter who worked on the two big projects of his day, Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. During his life, my father fought many fires in the city. I like to imagine what New York City was like during their time. When I walk around New York, I keep in mind, “My people helped to build this city, to make it beautiful, to keep it safe.” I consider them my personal cheering section; they whisper in my ear and inspire many of my writing projects.

A few years ago I went back to school once more, to Vermont College of Fine Arts, to earn a Master in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Now I teach college classes in the two professional areas that mean the most to me: the education of young children, and writing. I teach both English and Early Childhood Education, shuttling between three colleges: Fisher College in Boston, Bridgewater State University, and Cape Cod Community College. I also teach creative writing at Barnstable County Correctional Facility, to the inmates in the women’s unit. I’ve had the chance to go back to the school my mother attended, St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx, and teach a poetry workshop there. At Harwich Junior Theatre on Cape Cod, I teach the Candy Dish Writers class—creative writing for teens. Yes, there is always a fully-loaded candy dish on our writing table each class!

Remember those obsessions? I’ve written a poetry collection called Trucks, Boots, and Bells: Firehouse Poems. It was awarded the Candlewick Picture Book Prize at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Kimberly Colen Grant by SCBWI. I’ve also completed a middle-grade novel in verse called Firefighter’s Kid. I’ve had the amazing experience of meeting poet Lee Bennett Hopkins, who advised me on my work and invited me to submit a poem to his wonderful anthology Amazing Faces. A multi-cultural gem of a book, it was published by Lee & Low in 2010 and contains my poem “Firefighter Face.”

I’m now at work on a middle-grade novel, Tomfoolery, set on Cape Cod featuring a gay/questioning main character who dreams of being a window dresser in the big city.

I happily juggle middle-grade fiction, picture books, poetry, and essays. I’m even trying my hand at playwriting!

Whether you are a reader or a writer, a student or a teacher, my wish for you is that books and writing bring you joy… every day! Thanks for visiting my website.