Author Jo Knowles shares stories, advice


JO KNOWLES/Courtesy Photo

Young adult author Jo Knowles is visiting the Cedar Valley this week, giving advice to students at UNI and Bunger Middle School as well as reading from her latest book.


Young adult author Jo Knowles is visiting campus this week as part of UNI’s author-in-residence program.

Knowles is a renowned Vermont-based author who has written nine books. Her most recent book, “Where the Heart Is,” earned a spot on the 2019 Barnes and Noble Best New Books for Readers list and was a top ten summer reading choice by Horn Book Magazine.

Knowles’ visit was made possible by UNI alumna Ila Hemm, who donated money to have an author come and work with students.

The author gave a lecture on Tuesday, Sept. 25 in Bartlett Hall, following a welcome from Jennifer Cooley, head of the Languages & Literatures department. 

The evening began with audience members introducing themselves. Knowles created a comfortable setting and encouraged the group to ask questions about her books, writing and life. 

One topic of interest was every author’s ongoing struggle with writer’s block.

“I’m struggling with it right now, actually, but I usually seek help from my friends and husband,” Knowles said. “I talk to somebody and we go through scene by scene of my work and they ask me questions about all aspects of the work. It’s called microplotting.”

Knowles explained the importance of having trusted people to talk with about one’s writing, as it is a highly personal piece of work. 

Another discussion point was Knowles’ source of inspiration.

“Many of my books come from personal experiences that are powerful and I want to write about,” she said. “But also, through observation, I can discover characters, just by being a quiet person who notices a lot of things.”

First-year TESOL major Natalie Lawrence asked Knowles how to deal with the fear that the story one wants to write has already been written.

“It may seem like someone is writing the same book as you, but it’s impossible.” Knowles said. “Everybody has their own story to tell. Even if the concept seems familiar, your story is your story.”

Another student asked Knowles how she deals with rejection with editors and publishing houses.

“Rejection is really hard and it never gets easier. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure and it doesn’t mean your book isn’t any good,” Knowles said. “It took me ten years to sell my first book, but you should never give up. This is just the beginning. And then while you’re waiting on one project, start something new.”

Knowles went on to talk about the publishing process and how to work with editors, as well as her experiences as a teacher. Every summer, she teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies at White River Junction in Vermont. As part of a masters program for creating comics, Knowles co-teaches a week-long course with artist Tillie Walden.

“So I’ve been studying a lot of graphic novels because of that,” Knowles said.

Knowles also teaches as part of a Master of Fine Arts program in Southern New Hampshire University. Twice a year, Knowles and other faculty members from all over the country come together for a seven-week residency program, which includes peer and faculty workshops, open mics, faculty readings and presentations from visiting agents and editors.

“When the residency ends, the students are given a mentor to work with for the next five months,” she said. “It’s a great way to really connect with the students and their work.”

Knowles currently works with five students and is still in contact with many former students. 

She advises those who wish to pursue a writing career to take a copy-editing class, as most employers require some copy-editing experience.

Students will have one more chance to see Knowles on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 7:00 p.m. at the Hearst Center for the Arts as part of the Final Thursday Reading Series. She will also sign copies of her books, which will be available for purchase.