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Born and raised in West Virginia, Meredith Sue Willis was educated in the public schools of Shinnston,where her father was her science teacher. Her mother was a part-time teacher, and all four of her aunts and uncles were teachers. Her paternal grandparents operated a country store; her maternal grandfather witnessed the Great Monongah mine explosion of 1907, in which hundreds of miners were killed, and her maternal grandmother was a mining camp midwife.
Willis attended Bucknell University for two years, then spent a year as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) in Norfolk, Virginia– fictionalized in the novel Only Great Changes (Scribner’s 1985; Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997).
After the year in VISTA, she returned to Barnard College in New York City where she was involved in work against the Vietnam War. She was a member of the Students for a Democratic Society and a participant in the 1968 Columbia University anti-war sit-ins, the milieu of her novel Trespassers (Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997).
She graduated from Barnard College Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude. After working as a recreation therapist for a year at Bellevue Hospital, she took a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University.
Her first published book was A Space Apart (Scribner’s, 1979) followed by Higher Ground (Scribner’s, 1981; Hamilton Stone Editions 1996) and Only Great Changes (Scribner’s, 1985; Hamilton Stone Editions1997).
In the early nineteen-seventies, she began to work as a writer-in-the-schools with Teachers & Writers Collaborative, one of the earliest of the arts-in-education organizations. She has continued to work as a writer-in-the-schools through various arts organizations, including Teachers & Writers and the New Jersey State Arts Council. She has given workshops and keynote addresses to teachers and students from Massachusetts to New York, New Jersey, Texas, and California.
Blazing Pencils (first published in 1990) will appear in a new edition in early 2013 from Montemayor Press, which also published her Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel (2012) as well as her novels for children, including Billie of Fish House Lane, The Secret Super Powers of Marco (first edition from HarperCollins) and Marco’s Monster (first edition from HarperCollins).
Recent books include a novel, Oradell at Sea (West Virginia University Press 2002), a collection of short stories, Dwight’s House and Other Stories (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2004), and a science fiction novel for young adults, The City Built of Starships (Montemayor Press, 2004) as well as Out of the Mountains (Ohio University Press 2010) and Re-Visions: Stories from Stories (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2011).
Meredith Sue Willis has won many prizes for her writing, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She has participated in the Circuit Writers program of the West Virginia Humanities Council. Her writing about the Appalachian Region was the subject of the Fourteenth Annual Emory & Henry Literary Festival in Emory, Virginia, in 1995. The proceedings of that festival were published in a special issue of The Iron Mountain Review. She was also the featured writer in the Fall, 2006 issue of Appalachian Heritage.
MSW received the Literary Award of the West Virginia Library Association and was the 1990 West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Non-Italian Woman of the Year. In May 2004, she received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from West Virginia University.
Willis lives in New Jersey with her husband, Andrew B. Weinberger, a physician with a specialty in rheumatology. Their son Joel Weinberger, a graduate of Brown University, just received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Berkeley, where he lives with his wife, Sarah Zakowski Weinberger, also a Brown graduate. She just received a double Masters’ in Business and Public Health.
MSW is active in the Essex Ethical Culture Society and in anti-racism work through the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coaltion on Race. In her spare time, she tries to prove the Garden State is really that by keeping a four season organic garden in her backyard.
Her 2010-2012 books are Out of the Mountains, a new collection of Appalachian stories, Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel, a book on how to start and write your novel, and Re-Visions: Stories from Stories, another collection, this time of spinoffs of myths and other stories.