The Apostrophe Blog
Photo by Ra Boe
Some journals want brief ones—fifty words and no more—and you begin to worry you will somehow be punished if you go over the limit. Others let you ramble on and on, a veritable laundry list of publications and schools attended. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of approaches—pithy, themed, funny, irreverent, and exhaustive. When asked, I have listed recent publications and awards. I have always been truthful and, if anything, more reticent than bragging in what I have chosen to reveal to the world.
I’d like to think that by now, 2023, I have (finally!) settled on the ideal 50-word, third-person bio—a flowing water/river theme, citing the two fellowships I have received over the years, my most recent book publication, and the mention of this now utterly gorgeous website—
Nancy Flynn grew up on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania, spent many years on a downtown creek in Ithaca, New York, and now lives near the mighty Columbia in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has received an Oregon Literary Fellowship and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Recent publications include the poetry collection, Every Door Recklessly Ajar. Her website is www.nancyflynn.com.
Here’s my expanded 75-word version—education now makes it back in even though I am already thirty years beyond getting my graduate degree!
Nancy Flynn grew up on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania, spent years on a downtown creek in Ithaca, New York, and now lives near the mighty Columbia in Portland, Oregon. She attended Oberlin College, Cornell University, and has an M.A. in English from SUNY/Binghamton. Her writing has received an Oregon Literary Fellowship and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Recent publications include the poetry collection, Every Door Recklessly Ajar. Her website is www.nancyflynn.com.
But short and sweet can sometimes wring the fun and wacky out of the story of your creative journey. Short and sweet can also elide interesting, even important accomplishments in other areas of life. Especially if, like me, you have had an eclectic and less-than-linear pathway through life. Just for fun, here is some content from other bios I’ve used over these years that got dropped when the requisite word count got shorter and shorter.
Nancy Flynn hails from the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania where somehow, at an early age, she fell in love with words instead of into a sinkhole or the then-polluted Susquehanna River. Over the years, she’s lived in a chicken coop, a church, and a teepee.
Nancy Flynn hails from the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, birthplace of other world shakers and movers including Joe Biden, Mary Jo Kopechne, and HBO. In her past life, she worked as a cashier, a marketing manager, a publisher, a stockroom clerk, a university administrator, and a waitress.
Nancy Flynn was involved with all things literary back in the dark ages of high school, writing bad haiku and meandering vers libre that included the words crepuscular and entwined. A former university administrator, she now writes creatively and edits carefully from her sea-green (according to Crayola) house near lovely Alberta Park in Portland, Oregon. In 2004, she happily reclaimed www.nancyflynn.com from the realtor in Massachusetts who had it first.
Nancy Flynn hails from the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania. She and her son (now grown) spent many years living on a creek in Ithaca, New York. In 1998, she married the scientist whose house once hosted parties where Vladimir Nabokov chain-smoked cigarettes. They packed up their Conestoga Volvo 850 and headed for the foothills of the Coast Range, finally settling in Portland in 2007.
An anthology about bridges led to this permutation:
Nancy Flynn grew up in a former coal-mining town on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania where, pre-Internet, bridges were connections to the rest of the world. She recently moved to Portland after nine years living in the Coast Range woods near Corvallis, Oregon.
Another publication, Generations, asked for your generational markers in the bio to accompany your work:
Born the day after Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of that Montgomery bus in December 1955, Nancy Flynn’s generational markers are assassinations (JFK, MLK, and RFK), the Vietnam war, Woodstock, the Whole Earth Catalog, and Roe v. Wade.
One publication wanted a bit of a short story—this one is from when we were still living in the Coast Range woods outside Corvallis, Oregon:
Nancy Flynn was born and raised in the Wyoming Valley anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania. A budding writer from elementary school on, she won her first literary prize in 1965 at the age of ten when her essay “Our Friend, the Moon” took second place in the Junior Project Competition sponsored by the Educational ABCs of Industry in Niagara Falls, New York. Nancy first studied writing at Oberlin College and again at Cornell University where she earned her B.A. in Anthropology in 1982. In 1994, she received an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. Nancy lives with her husband and two lynx point Siamese cats in the foothills of the Coast Range near Corvallis, Oregon where, for the first time in her life, she is able to pursue her writing full-time.
Once, in a cover letter for an emerging writers book contest, I even deconstructed the notion of the author bio itself:
But such a bio skates over the (perhaps) truer tale. How I left Oberlin in 1975, detoured to a back-to-the-land farmstead and a hippie marriage that, by 1979, left me the single mother of a son. How I finished my bachelor’s degree at Cornell while living on food stamps and AFDC, the welfare of that era. And in 1988, aged 33, began the slow slog back to the writing I’d always intended to do—first fiction in graduate school and then poetry beginning in 2004. I’d like to think that the poems that make up my submitted manuscript are elastic enough contain these multiple versions of “self.”
Finally, there are the folks who want you to speak in the first-person and let it rip. So I did!
I hail from the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania and somehow, at an early age, fell in love with words instead of into a sinkhole or our then-polluted Susquehanna River. In a past life, I’m certain I was an art colony bohemian, an Irish peasant, or—why not?—Cleopatra! In 2009, I penned my six-word memoir: Teetered on the precipice then jumped. Into the vast, welcoming vat of poetry for what feels like forever. I love how it wrinkles my skin.