Penny Colman is a widely published author of books, essays, stories, and articles for all ages. The awards for her books include the American Library Association Best of the Best for the Twenty-first Century and Publishers Weekly Best Book. In addition to her research and writing, she does extensive picture research and takes photographs for her books. She is a contributing blogger to “The Public Humanist.”
A graduate of The University of Michigan and The Johns Hopkins University, Penny Colman has been a teacher, director of an antipoverty agency, and a school board member. A popular speaker, she has appeared on television and radio, including with Linda Wertheimer on “Morning Edition,’ National Public Radio and on Book TV, C-Span2. Her books include: Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on The Home Front in World War II; Thanksgiving: The True Story; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World. She has taught nonfiction literature and creative writing at various colleges and universities, including Teachers College, Columbia University and Queens College, The City University of New York, where she was a Distinguished Lecturer from 2003-2010.
In her own words
I was born in 1944 in Denver, Colorado, and lived in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Louisville, Kentucky, before my parents settled in North Warren, Pennsylvania, a small town in the northwest corner of the state. My father was a psychiatrist at the state mental hospital. We – - my father; mother, an artist; and three brothers – - lived on the grounds of the mental hospital. When I was eleven years old, a writer and photographer came from New York City to our house to do an article titled, “The Strangest Place to Find a Happy Family,” that was published in Redbook Magazine.
My three brothers and I were close in age, and we were always into something–backyard baseball games; canoeing, swimming, and fishing in the creek that ran behind our house; and fighting with each other about this and that. We had a family orchestra–my Dad played the piano, my Mom and brother Vin played the cello, my brother Kip and I played the violin, and my brother Jon played the clarinet. We kids weren’t very good, but we played anyhow.
For several years, my parents also owned a farm with a huge barn and a swimming hole. We had three horses, six sheep, a goat who jumped on the hood of a moving car, and a flock of exotic-looking chickens that my Dad and I ordered from a catalog. When all the noise and activity got to be too much, I would go for long bike rides. I loved to ride with ‘no hands’ on the handle bar, and I got to be so good that I could read a book and ride my bike at the same time!
My mother fueled my interest in history by taking me and my brothers to historic sites, landmarks, and museums. In particular, I remember going to visit Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts; the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Both my parents gave me a close-up view of being a writer. I was nine years old, when my mother joined the staff of a local newspaper as a journalist and photographer. Occasionally she took me with her when she went off in pursuit of a story. That same year, my father started writing a weekly column, “Everyday Psychology,’ for several newspaper. Two years later, I published my first article in the first, and I think only, edition of a newsletter I created to announce the start of our neighborhood orchestra comprised of me, my brothers, and some of our friends.
When I was fifteen, I, plus nine other kids and one adult leader, took a seven-week bicycle trip across the United States. All of our stuff—clothing, shoes, toothbrush, flashlight, etc.—was packed in forest green, canvas saddlebags that we attached to a rack over the back fender of our three-speed bikes. We tied our compact sleeping bag to the back of the bike seat. Although we did take some long train rides, we rode our bikes for miles and miles, including parts of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, through Yellowstone National Park, up and over the Teton Pass in Wyoming, and down U.S. 1, a two-lane, curvy, oftentimes perilously high and narrow road along the edge of the California coast. “The ride along the coast was really nice,” I wrote in a letter to my family. “One day we had terrible fog. You could see only 5’ ahead on a winding road. My hair was really wet and so was I after that ride. . . .since we could not see anything, just hear, we really put our imaginations to work.”
The year I graduated from high school, my parents had another child–my sister Catherine Ann, known as Cam. I took lots of pictures of Cam with me when I went to college.
After two years of college, I decided to hitchhike through Europe. I traveled by trucks, cars, on the back of motorcycles, and in the cab of a Caterpillar Road Scraper from England to Sweden to Turkey to Greece to France and lots of places in between. I also took trains, ferries, and ships. In Sweden I worked for six weeks in a frozen food factory cutting up broccoli and packing peas in little boxes. When I returned, I finished college, went to graduate school, got married and had three children (two were twins), all within four years. For the next seventeen years, I threw myself into being an active mom, volunteer, on-and-off writer, teacher, consultant, project manager, and art gallery owner. Finally, in 1987, I decided to become a full-time freelance writer. Early in my writing career, I earned money by getting up at 3 a.m. to deliver newspapers.
Now, many years later, I have published many articles, essays, a one-act play, stories, and books. I have also taught nonfiction literature and creative writing at various colleges and universities, including Ohio State University; Queens College, The City University of New York, where I was a Distinguished Lecturer from 2003-2010; and Teachers College, Columbia University.
I live and write in Englewood, New Jersey. I also write at my bungalow on a barrier island off the coast of New Jersey. In my free time you might find me reading in a library or archive; wandering through a museum or historic site; exploring cemeteries to find graves of historic people I write about; going to every type of bookstore, especially used bookstores; driving on long trips; taking long walks; listening to music, kayaking; doing puzzles and playing Scrabble; and thinking and talking about ideas.
To learn more about Penny Colman read her “Autobiography Feature” in Something About the Author (2005, volume 160, pp. 49-68) that is usually found in the reference section of many libraries. To read it online without the photographs please visit: http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1586/Colman-Penny-Morgan-1944.html