Here is a letter from Donna Jo to her readers, which answers lots of the questions that she gets. After the letter you can find her biography.
I love to write. I didn't grow up wanting to be a writer, but I'm so lucky that I stumbled across writing. Writing allows me to find out about the world. If I write a story about soccer, I get to go to soccer games for a while. If I write a story about lions, I get to visit the zoo and read about lions for a while and, if I'm extra super lucky, I get to go to Africa (which is what I did when I researched for the book BEAST). Writing is wonderful that way.
People often ask me what my favorite books are by me and by others. In a sense, I love all the books I've written. But some of my books have been very hard to write -- even terrifying at times, while others are a joy to write. I find animal stories really fun to dig into. And I find most historical fairy tales really disturbing to work on. But I do love them all. My favorite book for children that someone else wrote is A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. My favorite adult authors are Laurie Colwin, Anne Enright, Anne Tyler, Toni Morrison, Tim O'Brien, Hanya Yanagihara, Donna Tartt, and Margaret Atwood. I have lots of favorite children's authors.
None of my books are autobiographical. But I often do get my ideas from real life. Something will happen and I will simply elaborate on it and change it and mold it until I have a story that feels new and exciting to me.
If you want to be a writer, I have advice for you. Write a lot. And write all kinds of things: poems, stories, essays, recipes, e-mails, letters, journals, anything. The more you write, the better you'll get at it.
Thank you for reading my books. You are the reason why I write.
Donna Jo Napoli is both a linguist and a writer of children's fiction.
She is married to a professor of Health Law. Here he is below in the west, just before throwing that beauty back into the river. And here he is to the right, in the glory of a national park. And below that waiting for Donna Jo at her office.
Below is a hedgehog and a donkey that Barry and Donna Jo met in Geneva, Switzerland.
Donna Jo has five children and eight grandchildren. She dreams of moving to the woods and becoming a naturalist. She loves to garden, bake bread, dance, and make pottery.
At various times her house and yard have been filled with dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits. For thirteen years she had a cat named Taxi, and liked to go outside and call, "Taxi!" to make the neighbors wonder. But dear dear Taxi died in 2009.
Taxi lives on, however, as a character in the SLY THE SLEUTH series. Above is a picture of the old, real Taxi.
Below are foxes that have lived in Barry and Donna Jo's yard at various times. Someday Donna Jo hopes to write a fox book.
Donna Jo's novel BEAST (2000) took place in Persia in 1500. It was translated into Farsi, the language of Iran (the land we used to call Persia). Because of this, in February and March, 2005, Donna Jo got invited to Iran, to give a talk at a children's literature festival. You can read about that visit by clicking here.
The rest of this biography is mostly for educators.
She lives outside Philadelphia. She received her BA in mathematics in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1973, both from Harvard University, then did a postdoctoral year in Linguistics at MIT. She has since taught linguistics at Smith College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Swarthmore College. It was at UM that she earned tenure (in 1981) and became a full professor (in 1984). She has held visiting positions at the University of Newcastle (England), the University of Queensland (Australia), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), Capital Normal University of Beijing (China), University of Venice at Ca' Foscari (Italy), and the University of Santa Catarina (Brazil), as well as lectured at the University of Sydney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), and the St. Petersburg State University (Russia). She was a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Newcastle (England) in 2010. She was a Long Room Hub Fellow at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) in 2012, in both her capacity as a linguist and her capacity as a fiction writer. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Siena School for Liberal Arts (Italy) in 2015. She was a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Göttingen (Germany) in 2018. In the area of linguistics she has authored five books (one of which is translated into Korean), co-authored six (one of which is in Italian), edited one, and co-edited five, ranging from theoretical linguistics to practical matters in language structure and use, including matters of interest to d/Deaf people. She has published over 100 academic articles, many in top journals in linguistics, cognitive science, and medicine.She has held grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Fulbright Program. She is a Fellow of the Linguistics Society of America.
In the area of novel writing, she held a grant from the American Association of University Women for research pursuant to fiction writing. For a list of her major awards, go to the Home page.
In the area of short story writing, she has two retellings of Italian tales: "Sweet Giongio" in DIANE GOODE'S BOOKS OF SILLY STORIES & SONGS, Dutton, 1992, pp. 41-48 (ISBN 0-525-44967-1) and "Little Lella" in DIANE GOODE'S BOOK OF GIANTS AND LITTLE PEOPLE, Dutton, 1997, pp. 48-53 (ISBN 0-525-45660-0). She also has the story "So many first kisses" in Cylin Busby's (ed.) FIRST KISS (THEN TELL) anthology, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 193-201 (ISBN 978-1-59990-199-2), the essay "Choose well" in Dan Gutman's (ed.) RECYCLE THIS BOOK: 100 TOP CHILDREN'S AUTHORS TELL YOU HOW TO GO GREEN, Random House, 2009, pp. 246-247, and the story plus recipe "Bagna cauda Louise" in Jane Martellino's (ed.) ALL BECAUSE OF GRACE: REFLECTIONS AND RECIPES, Yes! Grace Rocks, Inc., 2010, p. 19.
In the area of poetry, she has contributed poems to seven anthologies by linguists and been coeditor of five. She has a poem for children, "Twelve", in ON HER WAY, edited by Sandy Asher, Dutton, 2004, pp. 84-85 (ISBN 0-525-47170-7), and another poem for the youngest crowd, "Roar", in ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME, edited by Kenn Nesbitt, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016. A chapbook of her poems, BRING WINE AND CRUSTY BREAD, was put out in 2012 by Bartley Press in Chicora, PA, where the poems were chosen by Nicole Bartley: available at or call Nicole at 724-496-8584.
She has written several essays about children's literature and writing for children. She has also written book reviews about children's fiction.