Paul Robert Walker (1953-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1953, in Oak Park, IL; Ethnicity: "Polish and Danish." Education: Occidental College, A.B. (Anglo-American literature; magna cum laude), 1975; attended Boston University School of Fine Arts, 1971-72. Politics: Democrat. Religion: "Raised Catholic; currently unaffiliated; practice Zen Buddhism." Hobbies and other interests: Playing guitar, golf, hiking, swimming.
Agent—Al Zuckerman (adult books), Susan Cohen (children's books), Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010.
Writer, storyteller, consultant. Prudential Insurance Company, Los Angeles, CA, technical writer, 1977-78; West Coast Talmudical Seminary, Los Angeles, English teacher, vice principal, department chairman, librarian, 1978-84; Easy Reader, Hermosa Beach, CA, freelance reporter and photographer, 1983-86; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, CA, assistant editor for the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology, 1991; freelance writer, speaker, and storyteller, 1984—; business writing consultant, 1989—. Served on Escondido Public Library board of trustees, 1995-2001 (board president, 1997-2000).
Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Phi Beta Kappa.
American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, and American Folklore Society AESOP Accolade List, both 1993, both for Big Men, Big Country: A Collection of American Tall Tales; National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS-CBS) Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, 1994, for Who Invented the Game?; American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, American Folklore Society AESOP Accolade List, California Collection, 1997 and 2000, for Giants!: Stories from around the World; American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, Storytelling World Honor Book, 1997, for Little Folk: Stories from around the World.
Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1988.
The Method, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1990.
Bigfoot and Other Legendary Creatures, illustrated by William Noonan, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1992.
Great Figures of the Wild West (part of "American Profiles" series), Facts on File (New York, NY), 1992.
Big Men, Big Country: A Collection of American Tall Tales, illustrated by James Bernardin, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1993.
The Sluggers Club: A Sports Mystery, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Head for the Hills!: The Amazing True Story of the Johnstown Flood (part of "Read It to Believe It!" series, illustrated by Gonzalez Vicente, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Spiritual Leaders (part of "American Indian Lives" series), Facts on File (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns) Who Invented the Game? (based on television documentary series Baseball by Burns), Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
The Italian Renaissance (part of "World History Library" series), Facts on File (New York, NY), 1995.
Hoop Dreams (based on the documentary film by Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert), Turner (Atlanta, GA), 1995.
(Reteller) Giants!: Stories from around the World, illustrated by James Bernardin, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Little Folk: Stories from around the World, illustrated by James Bernardin, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1997.
True Tales of the Wild West, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2002.
Every Day's a Miracle, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Andy Lakey) Andy Lakey: Art, Angels, and Miracles, foreword by James Redfield, Turner (Atlanta, GA), 1996.
Trail of the Wild West: Rediscovering the American Frontier, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 1997.
The Southwest: Gold, God, and Grandeur, photographs by George H. H. Huey, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2001, revised edition, 2003.
The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to books, including Exploring the Great Rivers of North America, National Geographic Society, 1999; contributor to periodicals, including Highlights, Los Angeles Times, Sh-Boom, American Baby, and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paul Robert Walker became a full-time freelance writer in the 1980s, penning books for younger readers. As an actor, he also performs his one-man traveling stage show Tall Tale America, which relates the story of the American frontier through tall tales, historical anecdotes and songs. His show complements many of his books for young adults, which focus on frontier history and the legends that have become associated with American folklore.
As Walker notes on his Web site, he was born in Oak Park, Illinois, "just like Ernest Hemingway, only later." Perhaps more relevant to Walker's interest in writing is the fact that his grandfather, Paul Hoff Kunst, edited a Danish-language newspaper in the midwest and wrote musical reviews for the Danish community in Chicago. Kunst was knighted by the King of Denmark for his work, but as Walker notes, "the knighthood isn't hereditary, or else I could sign my books Sir Paul Robert Walker." As a child, Walker was also influenced by novels such as The Swamp Fox, a historical account of Revolutionary War figure General Francis Marion.
Before becoming a writer, Walker was a teacher and a journalist. When the publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich advertised for writers for a young readers' encyclopedia, he applied and wrote nearly one hundred articles, but the encyclopedia was never published. Walker was also asked to write for a series of biographies that the publisher planned to package with the encyclopedia, and that project was also shelved, but his biography was published as a stand-alone volume titled Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente.
Clemente advanced from playing ball in the streets of Puerto Rico to becoming a major league star and Most Valuable Player. He fought for fair treatment of players of color, having been the victim of prejudice throughout his career, and he devoted his time and resources to the betterment of all underprivileged people. He was on his way to deliver relief supplies to victims of a 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake when he died in a plane crash.
Elizabeth S. Watson reviewed Pride of Puerto Rico in Horn Book Guide, saying that it "is full of baseball and humanity." Watson commented that baseball fans will love the "fast-paced action" and noted that Clemente's humanity "will leave a lasting impression on the young reader." Todd Morning, writing in School Library Journal, found the description of Clemente's years as a major league player better written than the story of his early years but concluded that overall the book is "an enjoyable and informative biography."
The Method, Walker's next book, is a semiautobiographical novel set in the world of high school theater. The story centers on Albie, a fifteen-year-old boy coming to grips with his own heterosexuality while his best friend deals with his emerging homosexuality. The teen characters represent a wide range of personalities, from wise and kind to manipulative and cruel. Kliatt's Claire Rosser felt that "there is plenty of nearly over-the-top humor here, and teenagers will enjoy the story."
Walker's 1992 work, Bigfoot and other Legendary Creatures is a collection of stories about seven creatures, including Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and the Kongamato, a prehistoric animal said to fly in the skies over Africa. Walker uses a combination of fact and fantasy in presenting the creatures that populate the world's jungles and forests. A Publishers Weekly contributor said that Walker's "uncommon hybrid should find a ready audience waiting to be scared."
Walker has also written several books for series published by Facts on File, including Great Figures of the Wild West, which showcases the lives of Sitting Bull, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Geronimo, Belle Starr, and Judge Roy Bean. Walker introduces each figure, then follows with a biographical sketch, a historical and personal chronology, and a reading list. The volume is illustrated and contains archival photographs, along with a map and index. School Library Journal's George Gleason called the eleven-page index "outstanding."
Big Men, Big Country: A Collection of American Tall Tales, tells the stories of Davy Crockett, Old Storma-long, Big Mose, John Darling, Ol' Gabe (Jim Bridger), Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Gib Morgan, and Pecos Bill. The origins of the tales are noted following each, and Walker places special emphasis on the earliest extant versions. A Publishers Weekly contributor complimented Walker for adopting "the cheery informality of the oral tradition that gave rise to the genre." Betsy Hearne noted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that this is a "down-home masculine collection," adding that the black-and-white drawings and color pictures give the volume "a kind of muscular Frederic Remington energy." A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked on the inclusion of only one woman, Sluefoot Sue, but called the source notes "intelligent" and the collection "spritely." School Library Journal's Martha Rosen commended Walker for his "carefully researched bibliography … and his blending of several anecdotes to create slightly different story lines." In a Booklist review, Janice Del Negro called Big Men, Big Country "eminently suitable for reading aloud and storytelling."
According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Walker "blends moral and social issues" in his 1993 offering, The Sluggers Club: A Sports Mystery. In this story, the bat of the star hitter, Wash, of Little League team Halbertson's Flowers, goes missing, and with it goes the team's winning streak. Wash is joined by two other players to solve the mystery of the missing bat, and there are several suspects, including a female teammate, a rival team's pitcher, an umpire, a homeless Vietnam vet, and a Cambodian street gang. But the culprit proves to be someone the boys never would have suspected, who commits the crimes for a surprising yet compassionate purpose. Booklist reviewer Leone McDermott wrote that Walker "equips his story with well-drawn characters and nimble, humorous dialogue." Although Tom S. Hurlburt, of School Library Journal, felt the mystery was "sorted out a little too easily," Language Arts contributors Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash commented that Walker "moves the story beyond the tangled web of story events to introduce ethical issues that readers will find worth discussing."
Head for the Hills!: The Amazing True Story of the Johnstown Flood is Walker's history of the 1889 event that leveled the Pennsylvania town. According to Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin, Walker "combines vivid descriptions of the relentless sweep of the water with insights into some of the people caught in the water's deadly path."
Spiritual Leaders, part of the Facts on File series "American Indian Lives," is a study of thirteen Native American religious leaders from a range of tribes and periods. Lisa A. Mitten wrote in American Indian Libraries Newsletter that Walker "has done an excellent job with his subjects," noting that the author "explains why little has been written about many of these people until recently" in his "sensitive and perceptive introduction."
In 1994, Walker collaborated with Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns in writing Who Invented the Game? which is based on Burns's public television documentary series Baseball. In writing the volume for middle-grade readers, Walker had to choose from nearly twenty hours of film. Leigh Fenly called the book a "small masterpiece" in her San Diego Union-Tribune review. Fenly prasied Walker as "a graceful writer," and commended his ability to "[move] seamlessly" amongst the many noteworthy individuals and landmarks Burns covers in his film. Indeed, Fenly noted that "the book tracks Burns's documentary inning by inning, providing a look at baseball without whitewash or excess glorification." Following the success of the book, Walker was asked to write Hoop Dreams, a juvenile adaptation of the documentary film by Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert, which became a best-selling title.
In The Italian Renaissance, a volume in the Facts on File "World History Library" series, Walker presents readers with information in an encyclopedic format. He covers the major city-states and the arts, economies, sciences, society, and influences of the Renaissance on other cultures. Although Shirley Wilton, in a review for School Library Journal, remarked that Walker "presents information without shaping, interpreting, or humanizing the age he admires," Book Report reviewer Gail Irwin found the sidebars "particularly interesting," and concluded that "teachers will … find a multitude of ideas to stretch students' understanding of the period."
The seven stories of Walker's 1995 title Giants!: Stories from around the World include "Jack and the Bean-stalk," "Kana the Stretching Wonder," "The Giant Who Had No Heart," "The Cyclops," "The Cannibal's Wonderful Bird," "Coyote and the Giant Sisters," and "David and Goliath." Walker researched the various versions of each tale and his retellings are composites of these iterations. Ruth K. MacDonald wrote in School Library Journal that "the range of behaviors, the lively narration, as well as the unobtrusive scholarly references, make this a satisfying collection."
Little Folk: Stories from around the World, was called "a well-written collection with much to offer" by Del Negro in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. This companion volume to Giants! presents stories filled with elves, fairies, and leprechauns, as well as the less-familiar Danish nisse, South African nunu, Hawaiian Menehune, and the Japanese Issun Boshi ("Little One-Inch"). The volume opens with the familiar story, "Rumpelstiltskin." While Del Negro felt that Walker was less "sure-footed" in this book than he was in Big Men, Big Country, a Reading Teacher reviewer called Little Folk "a wonderful collection." School Library Journal's Donna L. Scanlon said that "Walker's retellings are as sprightly as the creatures he describes.… A perfect pick to read aloud or alone." Booklist reviewer Julie Corsaro called Walker's bibliography, as well as his notes, "a testament to [his] scholarship."
Walker has written several volumes for National Geographic, including True Tales of the Wild West for young readers. Among his ten stories are histories of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the California Gold Rush, the Pony Express, and the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as several less well-known topics. He includes appropriate maps, illustrations, notes, and quotes to support the text.
Beginning in 1995, Walker turned to writing for adults. His first adult volume, Every Day's A Miracle, is a collection of contemporary and historical stories of people who believed they had experienced miracles. He immediately followed the publication with Andy Lakey: Art, Angels, and Miracles, a collaboration with Lakey—whose story Walker had told briefly in the earlier book—in which they document Lakey's vision of seven angels during a 1986 near-death experience. During his recovery, Lakey began to draw the angels, who the authors write revisited him in 1990. Lakey was inspired to complete 2,000 paintings of the angels by the year 2000, even though he had never before painted a canvas. The paintings, which have become collectors' items, are said to have healing powers, and more than one hundred are reproduced in the book. Booklist's Ilene Cooper called the volume "an enticing wedding of mysticism and art." Walker has authored several large-format, photo-illustrated books for National Geographic intended for an adult audience, including Trail of the Wild West: Re-discovering the American Frontier and The Southwest: Gold, God, and Grandeur. In addition, he has contributed to Exploring the Great Rivers of North America.
The "trail" in Trail of the Wild West is not a path followed by western pioneers, but rather the trail of the American frontier, following the progress of the Wild West from the California gold discovery at Sutter's Mill in 1848 to the Klondike Stampede of 1898, and the Indian wars, railroad building, outlaws, boom towns, and cattle drives of the period. It was the extensive research that Walker conducted in writing this book, along with his previous work with tall tales, that led to the creation of his stage show.
In writing essays for Exploring the Great Rivers of North America, Walker followed the courses of the Colorado, Columbia, Sacramento, and San Joaquin rivers, learning about geology, geography, current issues, and history along the way.
In writing The Southwest, Walker logged approximately 10,000 miles as he studied 11,000 years of human history among the deserts, mountains, and valleys of what is now the American Southwest, digging into archives and interviewing people in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. George H. H. Huey was the sole photographer for the book, and the National Geographic editors selected many photographs that Huey had already taken of the places about which Walker was writing.
Walker returned to the Renaissance with his 2002 publication, The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World. While researching his earlier book on the period for young readers, Walker became fascinated with the lives of two Florentine artists, Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose lifelong feud jumpstarted the Italian Renaissance, and sold the idea for an adult book based on their history. Walker traveled to Florence, where he used his newly acquired Italian-language skills to complete his research on fifteenth-century history.
As Walker details in his book, the competition between the men began over the design of a set of bronze doors for the Baptistery, and although Ghiberti won the commission, Brunelleschi went on to become the architect of the dome of the city's cathedral. Peter Gordon reviewed the The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance for Asian Review of Books, noting that the feud "is of course an allegory for the rise of modernity. Brunelleschi invented perspective and 'designed' the dome; up to that point, most engineering was trial and error. Ghiberti had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Renaissance and was prone to Gothic backsliding. This then was a battle between two views of our future."
Gordon commented that Walker "tells [the story] with just the right combination of researched detail and user-friendly prose."
A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked that, although no really new information is presented and the author sometimes becomes sidetracked, "the reader is presented with a rich tapestry woven from the tangle of influences" that "led to the prodigious flowering of the artistic, philosophic, and political movements of the next half-millenium." Martin R. Kalfatovic, writing in Library Journal, commended Walker on his use of primary documents, saying he "makes a fine circumstantial case for an artistic feud."
Pop Matters critic David Morrison White wrote that Walker's style "is to let the story tell itself. The outcome is amusing and informative reading, both for those interested in the first flowering of the Renaissance, as well as for all who enjoy a closer look at how lives take twists and turns in the process that converts daily struggle into human history." Bookpage's Alan Prince concluded that with the writing of Feud, Walker "widens his reputation for versatility. His newest work is sure to bring such sheer pleasure to people interested in history, architecture, and art, that many of them will regard the book itself as a work of art."
Walker told CA: "I consider myself fortunate to be doing something I love. It's a life of constant growth, change, and challenge. My first twelve books were for younger readers, but since 1995, I have focused primarily on books for adults, although I still continue to write some books for children. I enjoy both kinds of writing, and the more books I write, the more I am convinced that each book has its ideal form and its ideal audience. It's the responsibility of the author to find that form and to reach that audience by creating the best book possible.
"I think of my books as if they have a life of their own. I may write the book, but the book also gives something back to me, teaching me, changing me, making me a better writer and a better person. I am the maker of the book, but the book is also the maker of me. I have chosen primarily to be a writer of books because books have permanence, portability, and power unlike any other form of communication. I feel privileged to be a creator of books and to be part of the larger literary community. It's not an easy road, but it's a road worth traveling for those who have the talent, inner strength, and commitment to see the journey through to the end. I'm looking forward to the next chapter."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Indian Libraries Newsletter, spring, 1995, Lisa A. Mitten, review of Spiritual Leaders.
Booklist, March 1, 1993, Leone McDermott, review of The Sluggers Club, p. 1231; April 1, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Big Men, Big Country: A Collection of American Tall Tales, p. 1430; January 1, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Head for the Hills!: The Amazing True Story of the Johnstown Flood, p. 822; November 15, 1994, review of Spiritual Leaders, p. 586; November 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of Giants!: Stories from around the World, p. 469; June 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, March 15, 1997, review of Andy Lakey: Art, Angels, and Miracles, p. 1662; March 15, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of Little Folk: Stories from around the World, p. 1246; June 1, 1999, review of The Method, p. 1181; December 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World, p. 718.
Bookpage, December, 2002, Alan Prince, review of The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance, p. 14.
Book Report, January-February, 1996, Gail Irwin, review of The Italian Renaissance, p. 53.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Big Men, Big Country, p. 332; July, 1997, Janice Del Negro, review of Little Folk, p. 415.
Emergency Librarian, January-February, 1993, Jessica Higgs, review of Bigfoot, p. 53; September-October, 1993, Jessica Higgs, review of Bigfoot, p. 51; March-April, 1995, Jessica Higgs, review of Great Figures of the Wild West, p. 47.
Horn Book Guide, September-October, 1988, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, p. 649; fall, 1992, review of Big-foot, p. 280; spring, 1994, review of Head for the Hills!, p. 171; spring, 1996, review of Giants!, p. 96.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1993, review of The Sluggers Club, p. 155; April 1, 1993, review of Big Men, Big Country, p. 465; August 15, 1995, review of Giants!, p. 1195; September 15, 2002, review of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance, p. 1374.
Kliatt, July, 1996, Claire Rosser, review of The Method, p. 16.
Language Arts, November, 1994, Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash, review of The Sluggers Club, pp. 537-38.
Library Journal, October 15, 2002, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance, p. 70.
Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1990, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of The Method, p. 261; April 6, 1992, review of Bigfoot and Other Legendary Creatures, p. 65; May 10, 1993, review of Big Men, Big Country: A Collection of American Tall Tales, p. 74; March 10, 1997, review of Little Folk, p. 69; October 14, 2002, review of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance, p. 73.
Reading Teacher, April, 1998, review of Little Folk, pp. 593-94.
San Diego Union-Tribune, October 2, 1994, Leigh Fenly, review of Who Invented the Game?, p. 6.
School Library Journal, January, 1989, Todd Morning, review of Pride of Puerto Rico, p. 88; August, 1992, George Gleason, review of Great Figures of the Wild West, p. 186; May, 1993, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of The Sluggers Club, pp. 110-111, and Martha Rosen, review of Big Men, Big Country, p. 122; September, 1995, Shirley Wilton, review of The Italian Renaissance, pp. 229-30; February, 1996, Ruth K. Mac-Donald, review of Giants!, p. 90; April, 1997, Donna L. Scanlon, review of Little Folk, p. 132; July, 2003, Kathy Tewell, review of The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance, p. 154.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1988, Frances Brad-burn, review of Pride of Puerto Rico, p. 62.
Asian Review of Books, http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/ (December 14, 2003), Peter Gordon, review of The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (May 8, 2003), Alan Prince, "Remembering an Old Rivalry."
Curled up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (May 8, 2003), Nancy Chapple, review of The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance.
Paul Robert Walker Home Page, http://www.prwbooks.com/ (May 8, 2003), "Who Am I, Anyway?" (biography); book summaries.
PopMatters Books, http://www.popmatters.com/ (January 8, 2002), David Morrison White, "Art and Nature Perfect Each Other at the Crossroads."
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