Robin McKinley is an American fantasy author whose work has won many eminent prizes and honors, including a World Fantasy Award (Imaginary Lands, as editor), the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature (Sunshine), a Newbery Honor (The Blue Sword), and the Newbery Medal (The Hero and the Crown).
In 2022, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) named Robin McKinley the 39th Damon Knight Grand Master for her contributions to science fiction and fantasy literature.
Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley was born in her mother's hometown of Warren, Ohio. Her mom Jeanne Turrell McKinley was a teacher, and her father, William McKinley, was an officer in the United States Navy. So she grew up all over the world, including in California, New York, Japan, and Maine. Robin moved around frequently as a child and read copiously; she credits this background with the inspiration for her stories.
"I usually say I’m from Maine because it is simpler. My father was in the Navy & I grew up moving on every year or two. I am an only child. I learned very early that books are more reliable friends than people. You can take books with you, from one posting to the next, or find them at your new local library," McKinley says.
Her passion for reading was one of the most constant things in her childhood, so she began to remember events, places, and periods by what books she read where.
For example, she read Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book for the first time in California; The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in New York; The Lord of the Rings for the first time in Japan; The Once and Future King for the first time in Maine. She still uses books to keep track of her life.
McKinley attended Gould Academy, a preparatory school in Bethel, Maine, and Dickinson College from 1970–1972. In 1975, she graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College.
Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as an editor and transcriber (1972–73), research assistant (1976–77), bookstore clerk (1978), teacher and counselor (1978–79), editorial assistant (1979–81), barn manager (1981–82), and free-lance editor (1982–85).
In 1978, her first novel, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, was accepted by the first publisher she sent it. The book was named an American Library Association Notable Children's Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and she began her writing career at age 26.
Her 1982 book The Blue Sword received the Newbery Honor, and its 1984 prequel The Hero and the Crown was awarded the Newbery Medal.
Since then, Robin McKinley has written a variety of novels, mostly in the fantasy genre.
She has lived in Boston, on a horse farm in Eastern Massachusetts, New York City, Blue Hill, Maine, and England with her husband Peter Dickinson (also a writer and with whom she co-wrote Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits in 2001).
Robin met Peter on a Literature of England tour after Beauty came out. They lived for about a dozen years in an old family home in the Hampshire countryside. After the death of Peter, Robin McKinley moved to Scotland.
"After Peter died, Hampshire began to feel less & less like home. I don’t miss Hampshire, but I miss what was once my life there," the novelist says.
McKinley also says there have always been periods of stagnation in her writing, but the last few years have been bleak. The book she's finishing now is also bleak, but it is the book she wanted to write. She still believes she has something to say to her readers.
Photo credit: Twitter @robinmckinley