“When I was a small girl, my parents fought every night. My sister and I would huddle together in our bedroom and I would beg her to read to me so that the sound of their voices might be drowned out. And so she would begin, reading to me from my children’s books, night after night. Even then, before I had learned to read, I knew intimately the soul-saving power of literature.”
—Connie May Fowler
Connie May Fowler is a bestselling storyteller who believes in the transformative power of language. “Speak or write the words down, and the world becomes a clearer place,” she says. “Sometimes it even changes the world.” In her fiction she explores the effects of poverty, child abuse and domestic violence, the lush landscape of her native Florida, the conflict between traditional cultures and the modern world and the universal human need for relationships.
Fowler draws upon her own family’s long history of struggle and tragedy to produce affecting and unvarnished stories. Born in North Carolina and raised in St. Augustine, Florida, she was the child of two alcoholics. She was six when her father died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Fowler and her sister with their physically and emotionally abusive mother. Despite extreme poverty and abuse, Fowler was an excellent student and earned a scholarship to the University of Tampa. In Fowler’s freshman year, her mother died of cirrhosis, a devastating loss despite their difficult relationship. Writing became a kind of salvation, a way to make sense of her past hardships and turn them into something positive and productive.
In her latest book, A Million Fragile Bones, an environmental memoir that explores her struggle to survive amid the BP Gulf oil spill, Fowler draws a through-line from the loss of her father to her love of nature, writing, “The first great loss was the death of my father when I was six, and in the writing of this book I realize that over a half-century into my life, I am still searching for him. My method? Immerse myself in nature because my fondest childhood memories, those untainted by violence, arise from his love of the natural world. It’s as if I’m trying to provide what eluded him in life: a happy home filled with found objects that, by their very existence, signal we are part of something larger than ourselves. We are seashells. We are feathers. We are bones. We are what cannot be named.”
“The questions Fowler asks are the ones we all ask: What is the meaning of one human life? How do we cope with loss, sorrow, or with our deepest fears? Where she takes us is not to mourning but to celebration.”
—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
Fowler’s debut novel, Sugar Cage, was published in 1992 to critical acclaim. Amy Tan called Fowler “the genuine article,” adding: “She writes with tenderness of eye and an ear extraordinarily attuned to the cadence of language.”
With River of Hidden Dreams, her second book, Fowler “established herself as a romantic dramatist of Florida’s fecund cultural blend and luxurious geography and wildlife,” according to Joanna Duckworth in the Sunday Times. Her next book, Before Women Had Wings, received the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Buck Award from the League of American Pen Women. Oprah Winfrey bought the movie rights to the book, and Fowler went on to write the screenplay for the subsequent Emmy Award-winning film.
Fowler’s novel The Problem with Murmur Lee has been described by Sue Monk Kidd, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees, as being “about all the things that matter: life, death, love, forgiveness, and the journey toward truth. Its deeply affecting story left me with an aching love for life.” Fowler’s seventh book and most recent novel, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, was published in 2010.
In addition to her fiction, Fowler is also the author of a bestselling memoir, When Katie Wakes, which details her descent into an abusive relationship with a charismatic older man and how she eventually gained the strength to leave. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a searing and finely crafted memoir of youth and adulthood stunted by abuse.”
Fowler’s commitment to eradicating violence against women led her to found the Women with Wings Foundation. From 1997 to 2003 she was director of the nonprofit organization, which supports women and children as they attempt to leave abusive situations. In 2002 Fowler was honored with an Excellence Award by the Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence. Her work on behalf of women, children, and the environment led Tampa Bay’s WMNF Community Radio to bestow on her their inaugural Peace, Love, and Understanding Award in 2010.
Connie May Fowler teaches creative writing in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program and directs their annual Novel Retreat. She also directs the twice-yearly Yucatan Writing Conference. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The London Times, International Herald Tribune, Tokyo Times, and elsewhere. In her presentations, she speaks with passion and candor about the power of storytelling, the craft of writing, memoirs, domestic violence, the environment, child abuse, domestic violence, and women’s issues.
For more information on Connie May Fowler, please visit www.conniemayfowler.com/