Jo Knowles is an award-winning writer of young adult fiction whose novels include Still a Work in Progress, See You at Harry’s, and her most recent book, Where the Heart Is, which was named a 2019 Barnes & Noble Best New Book for Readers and a Top Ten Summer Reading Choice by Horn Book Magazine. Knowles teaches literature and writing at the Mountainview MFA program through Southern New Hampshire University. Her Final Thursday Reading Series appearance on September 26 is made possible by the generosity of Ila Hemm.
What drives/motivates you to write on the topics you do? And why did you choose to focus on the ages you write for?
Jo Knowles: My writing has always been about shedding light on things kids experience that people often want to avoid talking about, or simply seem to lack the tools or motivation to. As a kid who experienced a lot of similar things, I know how lonely it is to walk through life feeling like you're the only one who certain things have happened to. Books help readers feel less alone. Not only that, they show kids ways to navigate tough times, and give them hope.
Some people (usually adults) argue that students don't need to read about emotionally painful issues-- or that issues like suicide shouldn't receive attention. Or they argue that "older" students can handle them but not middle grade readers. What's your response to that? Basically, why tackle the tough issues with younger readers?
JK: Because tragedies happen to kids of all ages--they don't wait for kids to be old enough to handle them. We can't protect children from experiencing pain, but I do think stories help prepare and guide them. I'd rather my child's first experience with heartache happen in the safety of a book, so that sometime in the future, when they experience their own personal pain, they'll remember how a beloved character handled and survived it. Offering books to kids that deal with painful issues with sensitivity and care can help them find their way through their own personal challenges, as well as help them understand what other people might be going through, which helps them develop empathy and understanding.
Can you share a bit about your writing process for your most recent book? (Or any of your books, really . . .) What led you to want to write it?
JK:Where The Heart Is has been something I wanted to write for a long time but didn't really have the courage. Much of it is about my own life, and my experience losing our home to foreclosure when I was a teenager. It was a painful time, not just for me but for my family. When writing about personal experiences, there are lots of other people and feelings to consider. But as I began to explore the character and her family and story, I realized everything I wanted to share about that time came from a place of love, and that if I stayed true to that, my family would feel it as well.
What are you most hoping readers gain from reading your books?
JK: I think the same thing I got from my favorite books when I was a kid: a greater sense of the world, and what other people go through. A sense that they aren't alone, and that they can survive.
— interview conducted by Sheila Benson