A Glimpse Into Rainbow Rowell’s Life


Rainbow Rowell is currently on the circuit, publicizing her 4th bestseller, Landline, the story of a marriage on the rocks, a suffocating friendship, and a magic telephone.

Before Rowell’s amazing success, she worked at her hometown newspaper, the Omaha World Herald, for 10 years. When she left her columnist position to become an advertising copy editor and creative director for a local ad agency, she started writing Attachments as a pastime. The story was unique, written almost entirely in the format of emails, with the primary character being a young man who is paid to snoop. Of course, he falls in love with one particular woman’s emails.

After Rowell’s son was born, she set the manuscript aside completely for two years. “It felt like a hobby. I felt guilty taking time out of my life to write the book. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Attachments was published in April of 2011. The novel was more successful than Rowell expected, though not well enough for her to quit her day job. Still, with a newfound confidence in her writing, she set forth writing her next book. Eleanor & Park would be the novel that catapulted her into YA superstardom, but before she could write it, she would need to confront the more heart-wrenching memories of her own childhood.

The first time Rowell wrote about the struggles of her childhood was in her column for the Omaha World Herald. Her voice lowers a bit, serious but without shame. “I was living in rural areas often without power or a phone or a car. Our water came from a well and a pump. My dad was not around and when he was around, he was not good. There was a lot of alcohol abuse and drug abuse. I feel like I need to say that I’m probably sane and alive because I had a really great mom. Eventually, when we moved to the city and we were on welfare, it was a step up. Being poor in the city was easier than being poor in the country.”

Books were her safe haven. “My mother was very strict, there was very little on television that we were allowed to watch, there were very few movies that we were allowed to watch. But she’d let me read anything.” Rowell was an avid and prolific reader early on. She devoured everything she could get her hands on (particularly anything written by Beverly Cleary), a habit she describes as “problematic.” Rowell found solace in the stories when she couldn’t find it at home. “As a teenager, I had a really bad stepdad. I felt trapped and suffocated by the circumstances of my life. Those were the themes of my childhood. It’s not like I was miserable all the time, but when you are that poor, it’s present in your every moment and interaction. That poverty is a huge part of who you are in every moment.”

It wasn’t until after Eleanor & Park was published that many of Rowell’s friends found out she’d ever dealt with hardships at all, which she found incredibly disconcerting. “I was kind of like, Oh wait a minute, I haven’t talked to you about this? I’ve had friends for years and years and I’ve never really talked to them about this?”

Listen to The Book Report at your convenience. Go to iTunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-book-report, or at bookreportradio.com, click on Archived Shows.


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