Born Therese Callahan, I grew up on Long Island where I spent most of my time in my small backyard collecting leaves and bark and studying the fluid, negative shapes of the sky through swaying branches. At Boston College, I studied English and theology, and did volunteer work at a local homeless shelter. When asked by my creative writing professor, Leonard Casper, what I planned to do after graduation, I replied that I was considering social work. “You can do that if you want,” Casper said, handing back my writing, “but this is who you are.”
With a hunger for travel, I spent six months after graduation backpacking through Europe, India, and China. I watched a lunar eclipse from a storm-tossed boat on the East China Sea, and saw a gentle old leper quietly die on a street in Calcutta. From Beijing, I took the Trans-Siberian railroad through the Soviet Union and out through snow-laden Helsinki. Later, I spent two years in China and another in Argentina. Throughout this time, I kept journals and scribbled an occasional story. Several of my articles were published in New York Newsday and elsewhere through syndication. I wrote to explore things I didn’t understand. My questions drove me.
Stateside, I taught English as a second language at Columbia University because interacting with people from different cultures was the next best thing to traveling. On the move, I attended writing workshops at Bread Loaf, Squaw Valley, the Ragdale Foundation, the Writer’s Voice, the University of Kansas, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While my college friends went on to become distinguished professors and lawyers, I had a hard time answering the simple question: What do you do? “I’m a ruminator,” I wanted to say. Better that than admit I was secretly working on a novel.
Just after I finished my MFA in fiction from Bennington College, my husband and I became the parents of twins. Between diaper changes and hikes in the woods, I continued to write. I took a job teaching writing at a private k-8 school in New Jersey, where I still work. For months and sometimes years, I set my novel aside only to come back to it with fresh eyes. After an excerpt was published in Agni and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, I sent out the book prematurely and lost heart. The manuscript accumulated dust in the back of a closet until a friend, novelist Sasha Troyan, convinced me to excavate it. With clarity afforded by distance, I saw what changes were needed. After nearly ten years of writing, rewriting, abandoning, and reclaiming, I sent the newly revised novel to agent Anne Edelstein, who sold it in two days. Like my character April, I consider myself a late bloomer. I feel gratified to see April & Oliver reach the light of day, most of all because I have always felt a mysterious but powerful sense that these characters want to live. Now, in the hearts and minds of readers, they do.