Her 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, was awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. She is also the author of The Invisible Circus, a novel that became a feature film starring Cameron Diaz in 2001, Look at Me, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2001, Emerald City and Other Stories, The Keep, and A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the LA Times Book Prize. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta, McSweeney’s and other magazines. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library. Also a journalist, she has written frequently in the New York Times Magazine. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and “The Bipolar Kid” received a 2009 NAMI Outstanding Media Award for Science and Health Reporting from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Jennifer was born in Chicago and moved to San Francisco when she was seven, attended Burke’s from third through eighth grades, and then attended Lowell High School.
She has lived in New York since 1987 and in Brooklyn for the past 22 years, where - along with her husband, a theater director - she has raised two sons who are now in college. She recently completed a three-year term as president of PEN America, an organization devoted to free speech and literary culture.
When you were a student at Burke’s, what did you dream you’d be doing at this point in your life?
I wanted to be a doctor, and in fact, I have a cringing memory of getting caught passing a note in class in fifth grade (Mr. Hinton) that expressed frustration with our science class by complaining, “I want to study the human body!” I also have a very powerful memory from Burke’s related to writing: a children’s book writer visited the school when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I remember the encounter with such intensity: sitting in the auditorium in rows while she spoke to us. She gave us one piece of advice, “Write what you know,” and although I have mostly defied that advice throughout my career, it was incredible to meet a real, live writer at that age. My wonderment that she had actually written a book, which I could hardly believe a human being could do, has clearly stayed with me.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear “Katherine Delmar Burke School”?
Sweet. Fierce. Green.
Who was one of your favorite teachers at Burke’s?
Hmmm…this was a long time ago! The name I remember other than Mr. Hinton was Mrs. Hansen, who taught fourth grade. Mary Swope was a magnificent art teacher.
What is a favorite memory from Burke’s?
I have wonderful memories of playing tetherball and four square and other games in the Lower School courtyard. Also massive jump-rope performances. And listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” during P.E.
What advice would you give to a current Burke’s student?
Notice the physical world of your school: the fog, the cypress trees, the fields. You will likely remember them all your lives.