Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Biography
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is an American author and journalist. She has been described as prolific (she has written over one hundred books, most of which are for children and young adults) and versatile (she writes picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and instruction books). Her protagonists, or main characters, are strong, honest, determined characters that mature as a result of having prevailed despite adversity. Naylor's books portray her understanding of the trials and tribulations of childhood and adolescence. She writes about serious issues such as mental illness in The Keeper, crib death in A Story of Chances, and difficult moral questions in Shiloh. She also writes humorous mysteries (the Bessledorf series) and books about the supernatural (the York trilogy and the Witch trilogy). Naylor hopes that by writing about sensitive topics and exposing her readers to characters and ideas that are different, she can encourage them to become more open minded.
Naylor was born on January 4, 1933, in Anderson, Indiana, to Eugene S. Reynolds and Lura Schield Reynolds. Her family moved many times during her childhood because her father was a traveling salesman; consequently, Naylor doesn't consider any single place "home." She spent summer vacations with her grandparents. Her paternal grandparents (her father's parents), openly warm and affectionate people, lived in Maryland and her maternal grandparents (her mother's parents), no-nonsense people who reserved hugs for arrivals and departures, lived in Iowa. Naylor's summer visits made an impression on her; she has relied on memories of Maryland and Iowa to create settings and characters for several of her books.
Even though Naylor grew up during the Depression and her family was not well off, she never felt poor. Her family owned a number of good books and she recalls her parents reading aloud to her and her siblings daily until they were adolescents. They read the Bible storybook, Grimm's fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland, all of Mark Twain's books, The Wind in the Willows, and others. During elementary school, Naylor's favorite hobby was to "write" her own books, and by the time she was 16 years old, her first story was published in a church magazine.
Naylor married in 1951 at the age of 18. Two years later, in 1953, she graduated from Joliet Junior College and moved to Chicago with her husband. She worked as a secretary while her husband attended graduate school. During the next few years it became evident that her husband had a severe mental illness that was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. Because her husband was unable to work, Nay-lor supported them with income from her writing. She also worked briefly as an elementary school teacher, as an assistant executive secretary, and as an editorial assistant with the NEA Journal, a publication of the National Education Association. Naylor eventually obtained a divorce from her first husband and, in 1960, married Rex V. Naylor, a speech pathologist.
Naylor returned to college to major in clinical psychology. She attended American University and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963. While in school, Naylor wrote stories to pay her tuition. After graduating, she decided to focus on becoming a full-time writer rather than pursue a graduate degree. Within two years, Naylor's first book, The Galloping Goat and Other Stories (1965), nine short stories about children in other lands, was published. Since then, she has written over one hundred books and won numerous awards. Many of her books have been given special recognition by the American Library Association and the International Reading Association, and have been Junior Literary Guild selections. She has won two prestigious awards, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, received from the Mystery Writers of America in 1985 for Night Cry (1984), and the John Newbery Medal for Shiloh (1991).
Naylor does not have a problem coming up with ideas for her books; instead, other story ideas sometimes interfere with her writing. Her inspiration for writing is everything that she has ever experienced in her life, incidents that other people have experienced, and her imagination. She is usually writing more than one book at a time, and continually collects information for up to ten future book ideas. Naylor mixes up her writing to keep her job interesting and fun. For example, if she writes a humorous book, she might write a serious book next; if she writes a book for adults, she might write a picture book for children after that.
Today, Naylor lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband, Rex. They have two grown sons, Jeffrey Alan and Michael Scott. When she isn't writing, she enjoys going to the theater, reading, singing, playing the piano, hiking, swimming, and snorkeling. She reads books about ordinary people and books by southern authors. Although Naylor is extremely busy and productive in her personal life and with her writing, she manages to find time to be an active member in peace and civil rights organizations.