FAYETTE, Iowa (February 2, 2015) – Before Katherine Hannigan sits down to write, she has to be in the right mind-set.
She has to be ready to have fun.
“It’s not enough for me to show up with my intelligence,” Hannigan said. “I have to be ready to play; to try things out and make mistakes. Even if I’m really dedicated, if I’m not ready to have fun, I get nothing good. No one would want to read it.”
Writing for Hannigan started as an “antidote to meetings and bureaucracy” – a little fun to break up the monotony of faculty meetings at Iowa State University where she taught art classes for two years. What she came up with was an unlikely heroine, Ida B, who lives an idyllic life on a farm with talking trees and who overcomes profound losses with the help of her friend and a caring teacher. “Anything I wanted to give that kid, I could give it because it was my story,” said Hannigan. “I didn’t think: ‘I can’t have talking trees’ or ‘I can’t have a talking brook,’ so I put all those things in there.”
For years, Hannigan did not share her creation with anyone. It wasn’t until she attended a writer’s workshop taught by Newberry Award-winner Kate DiCamillo at Hamline University in 2002 when the words of “Ida B” reached their first listeners. DiCamillo told Hannigan that it should be a book. “I cried! I had been so reluctant to share it. It had been my own, and I didn’t want to hear criticism,” said Hannigan. “She had me read it to the class, and everybody…when I would have sighed, they sighed. When I would have laughed, they laughed. It was just a wonderful experience.”
DiCamillo maintained contact with Hannigan long after the workshop and prodded her to finish “Ida B.” Once she was ready, DiCamillo introduced Hannigan to her agent. The agent invited Hannigan to New York City to interview three publishers. The process reminded Hannigan of the story of the “Three Bears,” – this one wants to change too much, this one wants to change nothing, and finally, this one wants to make a few minor changes to strengthen the book but is “just right!”
Hannigan’s debut middle grade novel, “Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World,” became a New York Times Bestseller and received numerous awards.
Since then, she has added “Emmaline and the Bunny,” a chapter book, and “True (…Sort of),” both of which have won numerous awards and honors.
The New York State native, now lives in Fayette, Iowa. She left her family and friends behind in 2000 to take a job as an assistant professor of art at Upper Iowa University. After one year, she moved to Ames, Iowa, to teach at ISU, but returned to Fayette in 2004.
Each and every day, the author brings the fun to her workspace in her cozy northeast Iowa home. She is currently working on a children’s picture book, “Dirt + Water = Mud,” and is awaiting the publication of “Gwendolyn Grace,” which she will feature at the Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery on the Upper Iowa University campus in Fayette February 19 through March 27. Hannigan will host a very special presentation Thursday, February 19, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. She will take the audience through the process of writing and illustrating a book from start to finish. The event is free and open to the public.
The inspiration for “Gwendolyn Grace” came from playdates with Hannigan’s two nieces. “They pretend all the time, and they like to dress up and play,” she said. “They make me think in ways I don’t usually think anymore. And laugh in ways that I don’t.”
As she was formulating an idea for “Gwendolyn Grace,” Hannigan knew she wanted the main character to be a girl – someone who is very imaginative, very creative and noisy, like her nieces. But she didn’t want it to be a human. She wanted everyone, no matter what race, to be able to identify and enjoy Gwendolyn Grace’s story.
“I thought, what would be a funny animal that you wouldn’t expect that would be not cutesy, but different. And, I thought – alligator – that would be hilarious. And I put her in a tutu,” she said.
Hannigan’s character illustrations for “Gwendolyn Grace” were drawn in Photoshop® in black and white. She then printed the drawings on watercolor paper and painstakingly painted them in watercolor and colored pencil. She then scanned the images back into her computer and laid them out on digitally painted backgrounds.
The entire process from idea to sketches to mechanicals and effigies will be the topic of Hannigan’s discussion on February 19. “It will be very interesting for the audience to see how a picture book is made,” she said. “Because what comes out of me in the beginning is very different from what we get at the end.”
The community and children of all ages are invited to the artist lecture and to view Hannigan’s illustrations, which will be on display in the gallery until March 27. Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery is located in the Edgar Fine Arts Hall on the UIU campus. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. To learn more about Hannigan, go to www.katherinehannigan.com. To schedule large group visits to the gallery, contact director Elissa Wenthe at 563-425-5850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 5,800 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus, 25 U.S. education locations, as well as locations in Malaysia and Hong Kong. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and self-paced degree programs. With a focus on developing leaders and lifelong learners, UIU provides dual enrollment programs for high school students as well as continuing education and professional development opportunities for learners of any age. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.