Peck at the National Bookfest in 2013
April 10, 1934|
Decatur, Illinois, U.S.
May 24, 2018 (aged 84)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Graceland Cemetery|
|Genre||Young adult fiction, horror, mystery|
Edgar Award |
Margaret Edwards Award
National Humanities Medal
Richard Wayne Peck (April 5, 1934 - May 23, 2018) was an American novelist known for his prolific contributions to modern young adult literature. He was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2001 for his novel A Year Down Yonder (the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago). For his cumulative contribution to young-adult literature, he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1990.[a]
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Richard Wayne Peck was born on April 5, 1934, in Illinois to Virginia Grey Peck and Wayne Peck. His mother was a Wesleyan University graduate in economics and his father owned a service station. A sister, Cheryl, would later become an administrator at a college in Springfield, Illinois. He attended elementary and high schools in Decatur, Illinois.
After college, he was drafted into the US Army as a chaplain's assistant and spent two years serving in Stuttgart, Germany. In a 2003 interview he commented, "I think your view of the world goes on--for the rest of your life--as the world you saw as you emerged into it as an adult."
After his military service ended, he completed a master's degree at Southern Illinois University in 1959.
Peck worked as a high school teacher, but much to his dismay, was transferred to a junior high school to teach English. After a while, he decided to cut his career short and write. However, these observations about junior high school students proved excellent material for his books. He said, "Ironically, it was my students who taught me to be a writer, though I was hired to teach them."
He left teaching in 1971 to write his first novel, Don't Look and It Won't Hurt, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1972, in which "A teenage girl struggles to understand her place within her family and in the world." He wrote a book each year since then -- 41 books in 41 years.
A magazine article describes Peck as a person "who is fastidious about what he allows others to know about himself. He knew, respected, and honored personal boundaries in ways that are refreshing for someone who grew up in the sixties and seventies, when every little personal thing was fair game." He lived in New York and divided his time between writing and traveling. Peck died in New York City in May 2018 at age 84.
"The only way you can write by the light of the bridges burning behind you." -- Richard Peck, at a PEN panel in New York City, February 8, 2010
"Ironically, it was my students who taught me to be a writer, though I had been hired to teach them," Peck said in a speech published in Arkansas Libraries. "They taught me that a novel must entertain first before it can be anything else. I learned that there is no such thing as a 'grade reading level'; a young person's 'reading level' and attention span will rise and fall according to his degree of interest. I learned that if you do not have a happy ending for the young, you had better do some fast talking."
"You never write about yourself; you just always wind up having written about yourself." -- October 10, 2013, to a library full of 4th graders in Pleasanton, California
"Nobody but a reader ever became a writer." -- SCBWI conference, August 5, 2013
Peck wrote exclusively on a typewriter, described here in 'Publishers Weekly':
When the author is not traveling, he works at an L-shaped desk, which affords a sunny window. He writes everything on an electric typewriter because "it has to be a book from the first day," he explains. He has no daily routine because of all the traveling he does, but follows a very disciplined writing process. He writes each page six times, then places it in a three-ring binder with a DePauw University cover ("a talisman," he calls this memento from his alma mater). When he feels that he has gotten a page just right, he takes out another 20 words. "After a year, I've come to the end. Then I'll take this first chapter, and without rereading it, I'll throw it away and write the chapter that goes at the beginning. Because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise." He always hands in a completed manuscript, and his editor is his first reader.
Although Peck found a way to connect to readers around the world, he refused to embrace new technology. He typed his material on a typewriter. He wrote two books that have a tech-savvy setting.
Peck believed each book should be a question, not an answer. He also believed that before anything else can happen a book needs to be entertaining. He wrote many award-winning novels.
Richard Peck died on May 23, 2018, at his home in New York City after a long battle with cancer.
Several of these books have the subtitle "a novel".