Faith (Haigh)

Author Bio Birth—October 16, 1968
Where—Barnesboro, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Dickenson College; M.F.A., Iowa Writers'
Awards—2002 James A. Michener Fellowship; 2003;
   PEN/Hemingway Award for Outstanding First Fiction, Mrs.
   Kimble; 2006 PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book
   by a New England author, Baker Towers
Currently—lives in Boston, Massachusetts

The daughter of a librarian and a high school English teacher, Jennifer Haigh was raised with her older brother in the coal-mining town of Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. Although she began writing as a student at Dickinson College, her undergraduate degree was in French. After college, she moved to France on a Fulbright Scholarship, returning to the U.S. in 1991.

Haigh spent most of the decade working in publishing, first for Rodale Press in Pennsylvania, then for Self magazine in New York City. It was not until her 30th birthday that she was bitten by the writing bug. She moved to Baltimore (where it was cheaper to live), supported herself as a yoga instructor, and began to publish short stories in various literary magazines. She was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop and enrolled in their two-year M.F.A. program. While she was at Iowa, she completed the manuscript for her first novel, Mrs. Kimble. She also caught the attention of a literary agent scouting the grad school for new talent and was signed to a two-book contract. Haigh was astonished at how quickly everything came together.

Mrs. Kimble became a surprise bestseller when it was published in 2003. Readers and critics alike were bowled over by this accomplished portrait of a "serial marrier" and the three wives whose lives he ruins. The Washington Post raved, "It's a clever premise, backed up by three remarkably well-limned Mrs. Kimbles, each of whom comes tantalizingly alive thanks to the author's considerable gift for conjuring up a character with the tiniest of details." The novel went on to win the PEN/Hemingway Award for Outstanding First Fiction.

Skeptics who wondered if Haigh's success had been mere beginner's luck were set straight when Baker Towers appeared in 2005. A multigenerational saga set in a Pennsylvania coal-mining community in the years following WWII, the novel netted Haigh the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author. (Haigh lives in Massachusetts.) The New York Times called it "captivating," and Kirkus Reviews described it as "[a]lmost mythic in its ambition, somewhere between Oates and Updike country, and thoroughly satisfying." High praise indeed for a sophomore effort.

In fact, Haigh continues to produce dazzling literary fiction in both its short and long forms, much of it centered on the interwoven lives of families. When asked why she returns so often to this theme, she answers, " In fact, every story is a family story: we all come from somewhere, and it's impossible to write well-developed characters without giving a great deal of thought to their childhood environments, their early experiences, and whose genetic material they're carrying around."

From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:

• All my life I've fantasized about being invisible. I love the idea of watching people when they don't know they're being observed. Novelists get to do that all the time!

• When I was a child, I told my mother I wanted to grow up to be a genie, a gas station attendant, or a writer. I hope I made the right choice.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is her response:

Light Years by James Salter. Probably the most honest book ever written about men and women—sad, gorgeous, unflinching. (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

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