Katherine Higgs-Coulthard graduated from the University of Nebraska, Omaha with a bachelor’s in education and earned a master’s from Indiana University, South Bend, before completing her doctorate in education through Northeastern University. She has taught kindergarten, third, and fifth grades. Now she trains teachers at Saint Mary’s College and offers writing camps and classes for children and teens through Michiana Writers’ Center. She lives in Michigan and loves spending time with her family.
The longer version…
I was born on September 29, 1969 in Niles, Michigan. My family lived on the outskirts of a small town. Our house rested on a bluff overlooking the St. Joseph River. The generations that lived there before us had used the land below the bluff as a dumping ground, but to me it was a treasure trove. I never knew what I would find down there–cinderblocks, green glassed bottles, even an old fashioned pick up truck missing one of its doors. My neighbors and I would explore for hours, wading through the tall weeds, racing back to the river, scaling back up the bluff dirty and exhausted at the end of the day.
But the best days were when my friends were too busy to play and I was left to my own devices. I’d sit on the bank of the river and watch ducks float by or toss in sticks and race them to the tip of the skinny penninsula that separated the river from the swamp. When I’d soaked in all I could, I’d grab my notebook and hoist myself up in my favorite tree–the one with a wide branch that seemed made for the curve of my body.
In elementary school my teachers showed me how important reading and language arts are to writers. My favorite teacher was Miss Consigny, who I was blessed to have for two years–fourth and fifth grade. She brought in banana chips and pineapple juice for snacks, read to us from the very best books (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Wizard of Earth Sea Trilogy), and instructed us in yoga and calligraphy. She taught me to take risks and believe in myself. By the end of fifth grade I knew I would be an author.
By the end of tenth grade I was sure I could never be an author. My English teachers analyzed the joy out of everything we read. They required we read to find the one true meaning of the story–some hidden jewel that I could never find. Don’t get me wrong, I always found meaning in what I read, but it didn’t fit their textbook responses, so it must have been wrong. They analyzed our writings the same way, they saw meanings I hadn’t meant in my work. I thought things would be better if I could take creative writing, but I was denied that class because I didn’t excel in English. I quit writing.
Being a teacher seemed like the next best thing–I could help kids learn to write, share with them the books I loved. In 1993 I graduated from UNO (University of Nebraska at Omaha) with a bachelor’s in education, then moved back near my family to attend grad school, earning a master’s degree from Indiana University while I taught kindergarten, third, and fifth grades. The last class I took from IUSB was offered in conjunction with the National Writing Project–a nation wide program to help teachers develop as writers and teachers of writing. There I was given freedom to explore writing in new ways and to share my writing in a supportive environment. I began my first novel, but after the class ended the unfinished story sat in a binder for 3 years while my husband and I started a family.
My children–Chrysanthemum, Katie, Alex, and Wren–love to read and before long they also discovered the joy of creating their own stories. I realized that helping children write was really my passion, so I opened Michiana Writers’ Center and began to offer summer camps and classes for children.
As MWC grew, schools began inviting me to work with their students. That is the highlight of my work at the center–going out into schools to write with children. Watching them write gave me the push I needed to pull my novel out and give it a 2nd look. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t something I could exactly mail off to a publisher. I realized writers need high quality feedback to grow, so I joined SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and attended a week long retreat at the Highlights Foundation. Submitting my work to real editors required me to pay attention to audience in a way I never had before–who was I writing for?
I knew I wanted to write for kids, but I also found I had a talent writing for other writers. I began to query magazines, sending them pitches for interviews, how to articles, and market surveys. Facts on File and Women on Writing liked my style and I’ve written several articles for each of them, which you can find here.
Currently I live in Niles, Michigan with my wonderful family. I teach future teachers and spend every spare moment writing.