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Tracy Barrett (1955-) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1955, in Cleveland, OH; maiden name, Peters) Barrett; Tracy Barrett Education: Attended Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, Rome, Italy, 1974-75; Brown University, A.B. (classics; magna cum laude; with honors), 1976; University of California, Berkeley, M.A. (Italian), 1979, Ph.D. (medieval Italian), 1988. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Knitting, traveling to Italy with her family.


Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, senior lecturer in Italian and director of Italian language program, 1984—, affiliated with women's studies, humanities, and comparative literature programs. Presenter at numerous conferences.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (regional advisor to Mid-South region, beginning 1999), Authors Guild.

Honors Awards

National Endowment for the Humanities summer study grant; American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults designation, National Council for the Social Studies Notable Trade Book Designation, and Arizona State University English Education Honor List designation, all 2000, all for Anna of Byzantium; New York Public Library Best Book for the Teenage designation, and Bank Street College Children's Book Committee's Best Children's Books of the Year listee, both 2004, both for Cold in Summer.



Nat Turner and the Slave Revolt, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1993.

Harpers Ferry: The Story of John Brown's Raid, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1993.

Growing up in Colonial America, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1995.

Virginia, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1997, 2nd edition, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Tennessee, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1997.

Kidding around Nashville: What to Do, Where to Go, and How to Have Fun in Nashville, John Muir Publications, 1998.

Anna of Byzantium (fiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.

Kentucky, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Trail of Tears: An American Tragedy, Perfection Learning (Logan, IA), 2000.

Cold in Summer, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Jennifer T. Roberts) The Ancient Greek World, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

(With Terry Kleeman) The Ancient Chinese World, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

On Etruscan Time (fiction), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of five children's stories for the educational series "Reading Works," 1975. Contributor to periodicals, including Appleseeds.

Barrett's work has been translated into Dutch, Japanese, French, and Italian.


(Translator and author of introduction) Cecco, as I Am and Was: The Poems of Cecco Angiolieri, International Pocket Library, 1994.

Editorial assistant, Romance Philology, 1978-79, and Kidney International, 1984.

Work in Progress

A middle-grade mystery series set in the Middle Ages; a young-adult historical novel set in the Viking era; research on medieval women's writings about women.


A senior lecturer in Italian literature and civilization at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, Tracy Barrett has balanced her academic writing with a mix of fact and fiction geared for younger readers. Beginning her second career as a children's book author by penning nonfiction based on American history, Barrett expanded into fiction with the 1999 novel Anna of Byzantium. That book, which was highly praised by critics, has sparked further fiction, although Barrett has also continued to dedicate much of her writing to sharing her interest and enthusiasm for history with children. Reviewing The Ancient Greek World, a book Barrett coauthored with Jennifer T. Roberts, School Library Journal reviewer Cynthia M. Sturgis praised the text as "lively" and added that the coauthors' "infusion of humor" makes the book "a palatable, solid resource" for middle-grade students.

"I grew up in a town where many authors lived," Barrett recalled to Something about the Author (SATA), "and thought of writers as just ordinary neighbors. The wonderful Jean Fritz was one of these authors. She gave me an original illustration from her book that is still my favorite, The Cabin Faced West. And since I liked writing I thought it might be a good job to have someday.

"But when I grew older I got discouraged about writing, because every time I read a wonderful book I would think, 'Oh, I could never write that. Why even try?' And I was right. I could never write Charlotte's Web or Mrs. Mike, two of my favorite books. It took until I was grown up to realize that this was okay—I didn't need to write those books. Someone else had already done it! But there were other books that no one but I could write. So I started writing again. My first book wasn't published until I was almost forty, and I regret that I wasted all that time being discouraged."

Barrett's first book Nat Turner and the Slave Revolt, published as part of the "Gateway Civil Rights" series, tells the story of the African-American slave and preacher who came to believe that God wanted him to free the slaves. Based on his visions, Turner led a group of slaves in a bloody revolt that took the lives of over 260 people. The book begins with Turner's court conviction in 1831, traces his upbringing and education, and concludes with the famous revolt. In a review for Booklist, Janice Del Negro praised Barrett's objectivity, stating that she "attempts to place the event in its historical context in a concise, noninflammatory text."

Harpers Ferry: The Story of John Brown's Raid, published as part of the "Spotlight on American History" series, profiles another revolt from American history. John Brown, an abolitionist inspired by his extreme religious zeal to organize a small civilian force and make war on the United States in the hopes of ending slavery, took weapons during a raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859. Reviewing Harpers Ferry and several other books in the series for School Library Journal, George Gleason noted that the volumes "cover their subjects well and occasionally include unusual tidbits of information."Barrett has also contributed to the "Celebrate the States" series from Benchmark Press with Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Each book features information on the geography, history, economy, and way of life of the state under examination. Of special interest, according to Denise E. Agosto in School Library Journal, is a section called "state survey," in which famous people and popular tourist sites are discussed. Describing the books as "well-written," Agosto concluded that they "will be useful for reports." In Growing up in Colonial America, Barrett covers aspects of the lives of the children of the European settlers in the American colonies, carefully differentiating between her subject and the lives of Native American children and the children of slaves. In the first part of the book, the author details food, clothing, chores, education, and recreation among colonial children in the Plymouth and Chesapeake settlements. In the second part, common child-rearing practices of the day are recounted. Elaine Fort Weischedel in School Library Journal observed that similar books on children in the colonial era do not address the care of infants as Barrett does. The section containing chapters on housing, attire, and recreation will be "of keenest interest to modern readers," added Susan Dove Lempke in Booklist, noting that the volume serves as "a good choice for reports or pleasure reading."

Barrett's first novel, Anna of Byzantium, centers on the real-life twelfth-century princess Anna Commena. In a first-person narrative, Barrett details the claustrophobic circumstances of seventeen-year-old Anna, who has been exiled to a convent for plotting to overthrow her brother. From there, Barrett uses flashbacks to detail Anna's earlier life as the chosen successor for her father the king, her education and upbringing, and her cruel fall from favor following the birth of a brother. The novel then traces Anna's transformation from beloved child to pawn in her grandmother's power schemes to outcast and eventually to scholar. "Barrett uses an effective first-person narrative to draw readers into Anna's story," remarked Ilene Cooper in Booklist, going on to praise Barrett's use of detail in making Anna's world real to modern readers. Reviewers highlighted the fact that the crucial Byzantium empire is rarely treated in juvenile novels. And though Barrett's treatment of Anna's brother in particular contradicts the historical record, Anna of Byzantium succeeds as "a plausible character study of a brilliant and tempestuous young woman," according to Shirley Wilton in School Library Journal.

A more modern protagonist is the focus of Barrett's Cold in Summer, which takes place in a small town in Tennessee. Seventh-grader Ariadne hates the fact that she has left her friends and school in Florida to move to her new town, a move caused by her mother's job teaching at a local college. Soon she meets a new friend named May, who becomes her new confidante, only May's behavior, her clothes, and her startling comings and goings cause Ariadne some concern. During a social studies class, she learns about a local girl named May Butler who disappeared a century earlier, and suddenly finds her time taken up with solving the mystery of her reclusive new friend. Praising Barrett's portrayal of the "mutual concern" between the two girls, School Library Journal reviewer Alison Ching dubbed Cold in Summer a "light, easy read," while a Kirkus Reviews critic as a "genuine ghost story … that will draw readers eerily in."

Barrett once told SATA: "I started writing for children in 1992 when I began feeling that my teaching was getting repetitious and I needed to branch out into different areas. As a child, I had always said I would be a writer when I grew up, but this ambition got lost in the shuffle of graduate school, marriage, and family. Perhaps because of my academic background, I am more drawn to nonfiction than to fiction when writing for children. I enjoy researching complicated and sometimes confusing events and organizing them into coherent and exciting narratives." She also shared her thoughts on writing nonfiction for children, noting that authors "must pay scrupulous attention to accuracy and must present a balanced view. Children are interested in the truth and are willing to think about quite 'adult' issues if they are presented in a way accessible to them. This does not mean talking down to children; it means keeping in mind their more limited exposure to ideas and helping them learn how to formulate their own ideas and opinions."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, August, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Nat Turner and the Slave Revolt, pp. 2051-2052; December 15, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Growing up in Colonial America, p. 700; April 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Anna of Byzantium, p. 1425; April 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Cold in Summer, p. 1395.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Nat Turner and the Slave Revolt, p. 240.

Horn Book, May-June, 2003, Betty Carter, review of Cold in Summer, p. 338.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Cold in Summer, p. 674.

Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, review of Anna of Byzantium, p. 80; May 5, 2003, review of Cold in Summer, p. 221.

School Library Journal, January, 1994, George Gleason, review of Harpers Ferry: The Story of John Brown's Raid, p. 118; December, 1995, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of Growing up in Colonial America, p. 112; June, 1997, Denise E. Agosto, review of Virginia, p.130; July, 1999, Shirley Wilton, review of Anna of Byzantium, p. 92; July, 2003, Alison Ching, review of Cold in Summer, p. 123; August, 2004, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of The Ancient Greek World, p. 142.


Tracy Barrett Web site, http://www.tracybarrett.com/ (January 16, 2005).

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