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Jeannette Walls
Born: April 21, 1960 in Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2014. From Literature Resource Center.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2019 Gale, a Cengage Company
Updated:Apr. 9, 2014
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born April 21, 1960, in Phoenix, AZ; daughter of Rex (an electrician) and Rose Marie (an artist) Walls; married Eric Goldberg, 1988 (divorced, 1996); married John Taylor (a writer). Education: Barnard College, B.A. (with honors), 1984. Addresses: Home: Culpeper, VA.

 
CAREER:

Journalist. New York magazine, New York, NY, gossip columnist, 1987-93; Esquire, New York, gossip columnist, 1993-98; MSNBC.com, gossip columnist, 1998-2007. Has also written for USA Today and has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Primetime, and The Colbert Report.

 
AWARDS:

Alex Award, American Library Association, 2006, Christopher Award, and Books for Better Living Award, all for The Glass Castle: A Memoir.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

  • Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, Spike (New York, NY), 2000.
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.
  • Half Broke Horses (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2009.
  • The Silver Star: A Novel, Scribner (New York, NY), 2013.

 
MEDIA ADAPTATIONS:

The Glass Castle has been optioned for film by Paramount.

 

Sidelights

Virginia-based writer Jeannette Walls is a popular gossip columnist for magazines such as New York magazine and Esquire, and online for MSNBC. Her first book, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, analyzes the role of gossip in media and public perception, from the 1950s through its explosion in the 1990s. The book includes revealing tidbits as well, showing how Walls gained her reputation as a top gossip columnist.

Charles Winecoff, writing for Entertainment Weekly, remarked that the book "is at its best when detailing the often-ignominious backgrounds of some of today's most ubiquitous news figures." Winecoff added, however, that it "never delivers any real bombshells, and its relentlessly garrulous tone eventually becomes anesthetizing." Library Journal contributor Kelli N. Perkins called Walls's book "both an entertaining insider's look and a solid history of gossip." Jonathan Bing, writing for Variety, stated that "Walls proves the quintessential insider, and a highly entertaining one at that. Her accounts of dueling Hollywood gossips Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, tabloid TV icons like Barbara Walters and Geraldo Rivera, and high-flying editrix Tina Brown, lay bare the inner workings of the major gossip outlets in their ongoing efforts to somehow balance dish, cronyism and actual news."

Half Broke Horses is a novel based on the life of Walls's maternal grandmother. The protagonist, Lily Casey Smith, is a horse trainer, teacher, and avid poker player. Much of the story is comprised of the tales that Walls's grandmother told her as a child. As Booklist writer Donna Seaman pointed out, "Walls does her grandmother proud in this historically revealing and triumphant novel of a fearless, progressive woman." Entertainment Weekly reviewer Lisa Schwarzbaum commended the "narrative as bold and self-assured as a cowboy's lasso skills," while a Publishers Weekly critic found that the book is "one of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women that will always find an audience."

In The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Walls applies her fascination with people's lives to herself, revealing her own painful, deprived childhood and a life she once viewed as a shameful secret. Told from Walls's point of view as a child, the book describes her alcoholic father and artist mother, parents who seemed more intent on their next adventure than on providing basic necessities for their children. At the age of three, Walls caught her dress on fire while attempting to cook a hotdog because her mother was too busy painting to fix her a meal. The family often skipped town in the dead of night to avoid bill collectors or paying back rent on apartments that lacked heat or running water. When they ended up in Welch, Virginia, the small mining town where Walls's father grew up, the children could add their grandmother's abuse to their list of hardships. At age seventeen, Walls finally escaped to New York City with her older sister, and the two struggled to support themselves with jobs in the service industry while living in an apartment in the South Bronx. Eventually, Walls graduated from Barnard College, a degree paid for with scholarships, loans, and her own hard-earned money, then went on to a career in journalism.

The Glass Castle describes not only the hardships Walls overcame, but the guilt associated with improving her lot in life. When her parents moved to New York, they became squatters in lower Manhattan, digging through dumpsters and refusing to acknowledge that they needed assistance, their lives a sharp contrast to Walls's own successful Park Avenue existence. Spectator reviewer Olivia Glazebrook remarked that Walls's memoir "is full of astonishing episodes, but the book is a success beyond its ability to shock. Jeannette Walls ... has managed to balance her account with great precision: as she and her siblings did, we must both love and hate her parents." In an Entertainment Weekly review of the memoir, Nicolas Fonesca noted: "It's safe to say that none of her scoops could outshine the blunt truths on these pages." Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin commented: "Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews observed that Walls's "tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it's unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children's exasperation and disgust."

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly contributor Karen Valby, Walls explained her reluctance to tell people about her past: "I never set out to deceive anybody," the journalist maintained. "I'm a bad liar. I just didn't want to be 'Oh, the girl with the homeless mom.'"

A flighty, artistic mother, an unconventional childhood, and poverty are themes that also appear in Walls's 2013 book, The Silver Star: A Novel. In an interview with Nicole Brodeur for the Seattle Times Online, Walls discussed the book and its similarities to her best seller, The Glass Castle. Walls stated: "It is the continued questions about mental health and creativity." She added: "And I wanted to hang a story on that, on 'What is truth?' Truth and reality, and why do we make stuff up?" Walls also responded to critics who complained that The Silver Star is retreading thoughts that she has already explored in other books. She remarked: "Dysfunctional families are what I know. ... It's like asking Tennessee Williams not to write about the South."

The protagonists of The Silver Star are Liz and Bean Holladay, two half-sisters who, after a tumultuous childhood, go on to study at an Ivy League college. When the book begins, in 1970, Liz is fifteen years old, and Bean is twelve. The two girls have already lived in several towns in the young lives. Their mother, an aspiring singer, is often too distracted to make sure they are fed and at school on time, so the girls learn to take care of themselves. When their mother, Charlotte, leaves them alone while attempting to get her career as a singer started in San Diego, Liz and Bean are happy enough on their own. However, the authorities begin to take notice that Charlotte is not around. Liz and Bean worry that they will be sent to foster homes, so they take off to Charlotte's hometown of Byler, Virginia. The girls successfully make it to Byler, where they meet Charlotte's widowed brother, Tinsley, who lives in the family's crumbling mansion. Bean thrives at her new school, but Liz has trouble fitting in. Meanwhile, they are threatened by Jerry Maddox, the foreman of the mill in Byler. Charlotte returns by the book's end, begging the girls to come with her to New York.

Meg Wolitzer, in a review for National Public Radio Online, suggested of Walls: "Sometimes a memoirist stays in the world of memoir too long, and there are diminishing returns." "Readers of Walls's bestselling memoir The Glass Castle may find this new novel too familiar to be entirely satisfying," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Conversely, Booklist writer Carol Haggas described The Silver Star as a "captivating, read-in-one-sitting, coming-of-age adventure."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Walls, Jeannette, The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.

PERIODICALS

  • Booklist, February 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, p. 995; October 1, 2000, Candace Smith, review of Dish, p. 367; February 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Glass Castle: A Memoir, p. 923; September 1, 2009, Donna Seaman, review of Half Broke Horses, p. 38; May 1, 2013, Carol Haggas, review of The Silver Star: A Novel, p. 68.
  • Columbia Journalism Review, July, 2000, Andie Tucher, review of Dish, p. 66.
  • Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, VA), October 6, 2009, Allison Brophy Champion, review of Half Broke Horses.
  • Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 2000, Charles Winecoff, review of Dish, p. 64; March 11, 2005, Nicholas Fonseca, review of The Glass Castle, p. 107; March 18, 2005, Karen Valby, "Coming up for Air: In Her Blistering New Memoir, The Glass Castle, Gossip Columnist Jeannette Walls Dredges up Her Own Long-Buried Secrets and Lies," author interview, p. 32; October 9, 2009, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Half Broke Horses, p. 101.
  • First for Women, September 27, 2010, review of Half Broke Horses, p. 113.
  • Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of The Glass Castle, p. 1195; July 1, 2009, review of Half Broke Horses; April 1, 2013, review of The Silver Star.
  • Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Kelli N. Perkins, review of Dish, p. 119; February 15, 2005, Gina Kaiser, review of The Glass Castle, p. 141; July 1, 2009, Barbara Hoffert, review of Half Broke Horses, p. 93; June 15, 2013, Lauren Gilbert, review of The Silver Star.
  • Newsweek, March 7, 2005, Barbara Kantrowitz, review of The Glass Castle, p. 55.
  • New York Times Book Review, June 30, 2013, Chelsea Cain, "Stand by Me," review of The Silver Star, p. 15.
  • People, April 4, 2005, Edward Nawotka, review of The Glass Castle, p. 45.
  • Psychology Today, May-June, 2005, review of The Glass Castle, p. 36.
  • Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of Dish, p. 32; January 17, 2005, review of The Glass Castle, p. 41; June 1, 2009, review of Half Broke Horses, p. 28; April 15, 2013, review of The Silver Star, p. 37.
  • Spectator, April 30, 2005, Olivia Glazebrook, review of The Glass Castle, p. 38.
  • USA Today, October 8, 2009, "Half Broke Horses Ropes a Free Spirit," p. 4.
  • Vanity Fair, April, 2005, Jim Windolf, review of The Glass Castle, p. 184.
  • Variety, June 5, 2000, Jonathan Bing, review of Dish, p. 31.

ONLINE

  • Jeannette Walls Home Page, http://www.jeannettewalls.com (October 25, 2010).
  • MSNBC.com, http://www.msnbc.com/ (July 16, 2005), Denise Hazlick, review of The Glass Castle.
  • National Public Radio Online, http://www.npr.org/ (June 10, 2013), Meg Wolitzer, review of The Silver Star.
  • Seattle Times Online, http://seattletimes.com/ (June 23, 2013), Nicole Brodeur, author interview.
  • Simon and Schuster Web site, http://authors.simonandschuster.com/ (October 26, 2013), author biography.
  • Village Voice Online, http://www.villagevoice.com/ (July 16, 2005), Joy Press, review of The Glass Castle.
  • Washington Post Online, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/ (July 26, 2013), Carolyn See, review of The Silver Star.*

 
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Jeannette Walls." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FH1000163018%2FLitRC%3Fu%3Dmlin_m_newtnsh%26sid%3DLitRC%26xid%3D262a937f. Accessed 17 Oct. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000163018