Prolific YA author and part-time writing professor Laurie Lawlor encourages students to experiment to find their voices.
Laurie Lawlor is Columbia College Chicago’s resident expert on young readers. The part-time Creative Writing faculty member is a prolific author herself, with 37 children’s and young adult titles to her name since she began publishing nearly three decades ago. “I sold my first book in 1986—I wrote it on an electric typewriter,” Lawlor says. “Since then, things have changed phenomenally.” In addition to technology shifts, Lawlor witnessed a popularity boom in the genre, with writers like J.K. Rowling and John Green even sneaking onto adult bookshelves.
Lawlor writes both fiction and nonfiction, often with a historical bent. Her historical picture book Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World won the 2012 John Burroughs Riverby Award for Excellence in Nature Writing. Other titles include historical fiction Dead Reckoning and The Two Loves of Will Shakespeare.
Lawlor teaches classes in Young Adult Fiction, and alumni Chris Terry and Stephanie Kuehnert both published YA books following her class. (Terry released novel Zero Fade in 2013, and Kuehnert published I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone in 2008). Young readers, she says, are particularly discerning—they either fall in love with a book or dismiss it outright. Her students find the wide-open aspects of the genre exciting, with a broad marketplace open to experimentation in form and voice—whether they are attempting realistic contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, or historical fiction or steampunk.
“It’s not the book they think I want to read, or the book the department would like, or the book they think would sell,” she says. “It’s really their book. That throws it into a whole new level for a lot of students. To finish something, you have to really love it.”