- Virginia Johnson
Ethiopia-the faraway land on the horn of Africa, was Jane Kurtz's home when she was a young girl. Her parents were missionaries there, and her playmates were dark-skinned, smiling children. They mostly lived in grass-covered huts with dirt floors covered with mats—as did Jane and her family. The boys might work as cattle herders; the girls would help their mothers with cooking until it was time for them to be married.
When Jane got back to America from Ethiopia, the kids at school didn't know what to ask her. A boy would blurt out, "Did you meet Tarzan?" She hadn't seen Tarzan. But she had met a lot of amazing people who were friendly to her and her family. The Ethiopians had their own ways of life, going back thousands of years.
They had no television, so to pass the time families would gather together, play, sing, and tell stories. Handed down from generation to generation, the stories might be a little different in each village but they were basically the same.
When Jane grew up, she raised her own family and at last started writing. Finally she felt she could share the stories she had heard during her growing up years with a wider audience in America and throughout the world.
She teamed up with award-winning illustrators to breathe new life into old stories. In Fire on the Mountain, a poor peasant boy and his beloved sister keep a rich man from cheating them of their reward. Pulling the Lion's Tail is a story about how a brave young girl learns the secret to winning her stepmother's love.
Sometimes Jane has chosen to blend details of growing up in Ethiopia with more modern stories. The Storyteller's Beads shows the importance of friendship, especially in difficult times. Set in the 1980s two Ethiopian girls, one Christian and one Jewish, must work together despite their prejudices to journey out of the country which has been stricken by famine and violence.
Jane edited and contributed to Memories of Sun: Stories of Africa and America. In this collection, writers who were raised in Africa and visited America and writers who were raised in the States and visited Africa share stories about encountering a different culture from their own.
If you'd like to get a guided tour of Ethiopia from Jane herself, you'd do well to try her non-fiction book, Ethiopia: The Roof of Africa. Jane tells about the many different cultures that make up the country-their festivals, foods, and legends. She also tells about the country's serious problems: war, famine, and emigration.
Quick facts about Jane Kurtz:
- She was born April 17, 1952, in Portland, Oregon. When she was two-years-old, her family moved to Ethiopia.
- She has three children: David, Jonathon, and Rebekah. Jonathon, her oldest son married an Ethiopian girl, while volunteering there. Jane is planning to visit them often!
- She won the 2000 Golden Kite Award for her poetry book River Friendly, River Wild about the Red River Flood of Grand Forks.
- She wrote Only a Pigeon, a story set in modern Ethiopia, with her brother Christopher. He had learned about the street boys who raised pigeons while teaching there.
- Jane helped start the first free children's library in Ethiopia's capital city. Her push to help with literacy projects there continues with the Ethiopia Reads campaign.
You can read more about Jane online, and check out her many books in the library:
On the Web
Biography Resource Center: Jane Kurtz
You'll need your Central Rappahannock Regional Library card to check out this online article. Click Search Now, login, and select Biography Resource Center as your database.
Interview with Children's Book Author Jane Kurtz
Read Jane's terrific interview, conducted by another multi-cultural author Cynthia Leitich-Smith. Be sure to click on the update link (upper right corner of the page) for newer information.
Meet Jane Kurtz: Author, Traveler, Teacher
Jane talks about how her parents influenced her development, school visits, and which character in her books most resembles her.