From the cheeky wisdom of a six-year-old to the sweeping vistas of a spaghetti Western sunset, these Arizona authors—both native and adopted—have a little something for every reader.
Wowie, wow wow!—it’s Barbara Park!
You may not recognize the name of children’s writer Barbara Park—but chances are good that if you have kids, you know her irrepressibly ungrammatical “bestest” heroine, Junie B. Jones. The New Jersey-born author moved to Arizona in the 1970s, penning her famous series about the sassy girl who gave us quips like, “punishment takes the friendly right out of you” and “a little glitter can turn your whole day around.” Park also wrote books for older children—most notably, Skinnybones, which won several awards.
Southwest Sleuth: J.A. Jance
It’s no mystery as to where mystery writer J.A. Jance’s strong-willed female protagonists get their grit: Jance herself was initially discouraged from being an author, she says on her website, because a professor thought girls “ought to be teachers or nurses,” not writers. Luckily, she persevered—and now Jance, a New York Times Best Seller, boasts over sixty books to her name. The University of Arizona grad’s Joanna Brady books are set in southeastern Arizona of her childhood, and her heroine Ali Reynolds calls the red rocks of Sedona home.
Diana Gabaldon? Aye, Sassenach!
You might expect that an author of the best-selling cross-genre (just your typical romance/sci-fi/fantasy/historical fiction set in the Scottish highlands) Outlander series might come from somewhere suitably romantic or exotic: the Hebrides, or maybe the West Indies, perhaps. Nope—Diana Gabaldon was raised in Flagstaff and now lives in Scottsdale. The one-time environmental studies professor quit her day job to focus on novels full time, and the result was the Doctor Who-inspired time-travel romance between WWII nurse Claire Randall and her 18th century lover, Jamie Fraser. The series has recently been adapted by Starz to high acclaim.
Zane Grey’s Purple Sage and Purple Prose
21st century Phoenix barely recalls the dusty trails of the Old West, but Zane Grey was born in the midst of Arizona’s wild heyday—which he read about in dime stories from the comfort of his Ohio home. Grey’s wanderlust finally led him west to Arizona, where he had a cabin in Rim Country during the 20s. Late in his life, grumbling about the “tin-can, auto hunters with shot guns,” he lamented that the state was overrun with speculators and tourists and he vowed never to return. He didn’t—but his “beloved Arizona” lives on in such venerated Westerns as Riders of the Purple Sage and The Call of the Canyon.
Barbara Kingsolver, Appalachia to Arizona
Barbara Kingsolver was born in rural Kentucky and raised briefly in the Congo, lending her experience for her most famous novel, The Poisonwood Bible. She spent twenty years in Tucson, a locale for The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven and a compilation of essays, High Tide in Tucson. Even though she’s moved back to Kentucky, Kingsolver talks about Arizona with the bluster of a native: “We have our own kind of Jack London thing, in reverse: Remember that year (swagger, thumbs in the belt) when it was 122 degrees and planes couldn’t land at the airport?”
Whether you like mysteries, histories or anything in between, Arizona has always been a page turner.