ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Note:this biography from Contemporary Authors
With more than one hundred books to her credit, Kathlyn Gay has
established herself as a prolific writer of nonfiction information books for teens
and juvenile readers. Gay has explored topics including environmental
issues, politics, military history, sports, manufacturing, multiculturalism, and
pressing social concerns in books that are held up as examples of what
a good informational title should be. Gay's works are "insightful,
well-researched, and intellectually stimulating," according to Booklist contributor
Stephanie Zvirin. Her books have also been called "relevant [and] engrossing," by
Booklist reviewer Roger Leslie, and "factual, well-organized,
straightforward, and readable," by Diane P. Tuccillo in School Library Journal. Gay does
not steer away from "thorny contemporary issues," noted Chris Sherman in
Booklist. "Writing, for me," Gay once told CA, "has become a way of life,
and I could not imagine trying to function as an individual without exercising
this form of communication."
Born in Zion, Illinois, in 1930, Gay was brought up in a community
controlled by a church group that originated at the turn of the twentieth century.
"'Outsiders' were seldom welcome in this community," Gay once told CA,
"and it was here I learned the real dangers of 'exclusiveness' and
isolation. Even at nine and ten years old I felt there was little opportunity for
growth in a closed community. What is good and right and productive in
life takes many forms, not just one. Each of us may come from a different
place and still arrive at the same goal or end." Such an upbringing
instilled in Gay a fervent belief in a pluralistic society and a respect for
individual difference, concerns reflected in many of her nonfiction titles.
Gay started writing when she was ten, publishing articles for her elementary school
newspaper. As she grew up, she defined herself more and more by such
writing, dreaming of a career in journalism or perhaps advertising.
Attending Northern Illinois University, she met her future husband,
Arthur L. Gay; they married in 1948. Gay's husband was an educator, and the
family lived variously in Barrington, Illinois, Ventura, California, and then
for thirty-six years in Elkhart, Indiana. Gay did not realize her
youthful dreams of becoming a professional writer until her daughter was born in
1957. In fact, the expectant mother penned her first article, which was
subsequently published in a travel magazine, in the hospital the very day
her daughter was born. The subsequent fifteen dollars she earned for the
article convinced Gay that she could build a career in writing. Working
part time in a variety of jobs and raising a family, Gay still found time
to turn out articles on her portable typewriter. More articles followed,
and then some textbooks and teaching materials for the educational
market. From there, she branched out to writing books on a wide range of topics
of interest for young readers. Soon Gay had built a thriving career as
a nonfiction writer for young adults and juvenile readers, collaborating
with her husband on some titles, or with her children--as they grew
Gay has written numerous books on environmental topics, beginning with
the award-winning 1983 Acid Rain, a discussion of one of the hottest
ecological issues of the 1980s. Gay discusses the impacts of such results of
pollution in a book that has "short chapters with clear explanations," according
to Paula J. Lacey in Voice of Youth Advocates. She does the same about
the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in The Greenhouse Effect,
"a balanced, well-written book on a difficult and important
technology-induced problem of our time," Indira Nair noted in a review for Appraisal.
Similarly, School Library Journal contributor Meryl Silverstein found the book to
be "a thorough overview and introduction to a complex and difficult problem."
The threat posed by a hole in the ozone layer is examined in Ozone, an
"outstanding introduction to a complex problem, enhanced by lucid
writing," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. Toxic dangers are explored in
Silent Killers: Radon and Other Hazards.
Gay also shows how insects and microorganisms can be used in Cleaning
Nature Naturally, "impressively researched" with a "carefully balanced
perspective," as a contributor for Kirkus Reviews described the book.
"This is a thorough look at an expanding technology with a few sparks of wit
here and there," added Paula J. Lacey in Voice of Youth Advocates.
Various forms of pollution are dealt with in subsequent titles. Water Pollution
tackles that issue head on, examining both causes and effects. Charles
Harmon, writing in Booklist, felt that "Gay's discussion of protective
and cleanup measures merit special praise." The author also provides a
"well-documented, thought-provoking study" in her Air Pollution,
according to Mary Romano Marks in Booklist. A critic for Kirkus Reviews had
similar praise, calling the book a "comprehensive, up-to-date, well-balanced look
at our industrialized society's poisoning of the air we breathe." Addressing
the issue of recycling, Gay penned Garbage and Recycling, a "short book,"
according to Herbert J. Mason in Science Books and Films, "but the author
has made every word count." More environmental solutions are proposed in
Saving the Environment: Debating the Costs, while in Rainforests of the
World: A Reference Handbook, Gay presents an informational guide covering
that unique ecosystem.
Gay tackles controversial social issues in numerous other titles. Bigotry
is "a comprehensive and well-documented account of the complex problems
of bigotry and prejudice," according to Sylvia V. Meisner, writing in
School Library Journal. Not only racial, but also gender, sexual, and economic
prejudices are explored in this "worthwhile tool for research papers,"
as Meisner further noted. One form of such bias is further examined in
Rights and Respect: What You Need to Know about Gender Bias and Sexual
Harassment, a book written in "an anecdotal style that is very readable,"
according to Chris Sherman in Booklist. Gay used her own personal
experiences growing up in a closed society in Communes and Cults, a discussion of
both religious and secular societies. Looking at groups from the Branch
Davidians of Waco, Texas, to Jim Jones's People's Temple, she provides "a valuable
title, clearly written, and informative," thought Libby K. White in
School Library Journal. In Neo-Nazis: A Growing Threat, she looks at far-right
cults in "a scary, informative introduction to the subject," according
to Booklist reviewer Jean Franklin.
Turning to social issues with more of a personal concern, Gay authored
Pregnancy: Private Decisions, Public Debates, examining the controversy
around abortion. Lois McCulley, writing in School Library Journal, felt
that "superior writing and a well-organized, thoughtful presentation mark
this volume." Likewise, a contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book
to be a "well-informed overview," as well as "lively." For Booklist
writer Stephanie Zvirin, Gay "does her customarily balanced, well-documented
job" in this title. Euthanasia is the subject of The Right to Die: Pubic
Controversy, Private Matter, a book presented "in lucid, interesting, and easily
understood language," as noted by School Library Journal contributor Kathryn Havris,
who also felt that "this book is a great place to start for information"
for the continuing debate over the right to die. A writer for Kirkus
Reviews also noted Gay's "fully-documented, well-integrated" approach to the
Education is the focus of Crisis in Education: Will the United States Be
Ready for the Year 2000?, an outline of the basic issues shaping
education and educational reform in the mid-1980s. A Booklist commentator cited Gay
for approaching the topic "without jargon or preaching" and for
discussing "many hotly debated issues with considerable fairness."
Other nonfiction titles from Gay deal with multiculturalism and cultural
diversity. I Am Who I Am: Speaking out about Multiracial Identity earned
a starred Booklist review from Stephanie Zvirin, who called it
"positive, supporting, and informative," and won similar praise from Brenda Moses
in Voice of Youth Advocates as "an excellent source for information."
Changing Families: Meeting Today's Challenges and The Rainbow Effect:
Interracial Families are two titles that deal with the ever-developing and changing
nature of families in the United States. Rosie Peasley, writing in
School Library Journal, found Changing Families "an excellent presentation," and
both "accepting and hopeful" of new family arrangements.
Cultural Diversity, Conflicts and Challenges: The Ultimate Teen Guide
explains how Americans came to develop cultural ideals and discusses some
of the roots of bigotry and prejudice. The book includes personal
examples of prejudice and hatred as it has been experienced by actual teenagers
for a variety of reasons, and Gay attempts to point the way toward positive
solutions to the challenges she has identified. On a more specific topic,
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations: The History,
Customs, and Symbols Associated with Both Traditional and Contemporary Religious
and Secular Events Observed by Americans of African Descent addresses a
more light-hearted cultural theme. Gay introduces more than one hundred
African American celebrations enjoyed by people of color throughout the
United States. She presents the events alphabetically, describing the
source, history, and custom of each event, but also identifying the locations and
dates of each observance, with contact information for further details.
Political issues and government are examined in some of Gay's titles.
The separation of government and religion is analyzed in Church and
State: Government and Religion in the United States, a book that evidences "Gay's
even-handedness," according to Dem Polacheck in Voice of Youth
Advocates. "Gay has performed admirably in presenting the issues," Polacheck further
commented. Cities under Stress examines the state of the urban centers
in America, while The New Power of Women in Politics focuses on women in
politics from Abigail Adams to today. "Gay treats her subjects as working
leaders in public life," observed Mary Harris Veeder in a Booklist
review, "not as oddities." In Who's Running the Nation? How Corporate Power
Threatens Democracy, Gay looks at the corporate threat to democracy in "an
insightful analysis of current social trends," according to Jonathan Betz-Zall,
writing in School Library Journal. From the robber barons of the nineteenth
century to today's corporate welfare, the history of such abuses of power is
presented in a "well-documented account," as Betz-Zall further described the title.
Lighter in tone are sports books, such as They Don't Wash Their Socks!
Sports Superstitions, which Voice of Youth Advocates critic Sari Feldman,
referring to so-called high-interest, low-vocabulary titles, felt was a
"fine hilo title" about an "entertaining" topic. Amateur boxing is the
subject of Your Fight Has Just Begun, "an enthusiastic initiation to a
subject about which little has been written specifically for teens,"
according to a reviewer for Booklist. Richard Luzer, writing in School Library
Journal, also felt that Gay and her coauthor, Ben E. Barnes, "do an excellent job
of capturing a very special American subculture." Minor league baseball
takes center stage in The Not-so-minor Leagues, written with one of her
sons, Douglas Gay. Debbie Carton, reviewing the title in Booklist,
thought it would make an "excellent addition to basic baseball collections."
Gay displays her wide range of researching and writing abilities in many
other titles dealing with military history and wars in which Americans
have fought. Writing in the "Voices from the Past" series in
collaboration with her son Martin, Gay offers brief overviews of wars, including
causes, battles, outcomes, and ample quotations from people involved in the
conflicts, tracing the history of American warfare from the Revolutionary War to the
Persian Gulf War more than 200 years later.
In other titles, Gay continues to demonstrate her versatility. Science
in Ancient Greece explores at scientific achievements in that ancient
culture, while Body Marks: Tattooing, Piercing, and Scarification covers a
panorama of history as it relates to body decoration over the centuries, from
tattoos as symbols of status or slavery, to piercing and scarification as rites
of passage, to ornamentation intended to set some people apart or bring
others together. Gay also addresses the health risks associated with such
body decorations and the potential repercussions of alterations that
cannot be reversed. Leaving Cuba: From Operation Pedro Pan to Elian traces the
experiences of children who have fled Fidel Castro's Cuba. Reviewing the
latter title, Nell Beram, writing in Horn Book Guide, made special note
of Gay's "rich narrative." Voice of Youth Advocates critic Delia A.
Culberson likewise commented on this "well-documented book [that] looks at the
various aspects of the Cuban diaspora and its impact on Cubans and their American
hosts." Mao Zedong's China describes the travails of life under Mao, from
famine to repression, and discusses the post-Mao legacy of his regime.
Gay also offers biographical information on the leader and his family,
and concludes her attempt at a balanced account by describing his
contributions to the history of a vast and ancient land.
Among the author's popular and well-respected encyclopedias and reference
guides are The Encyclopedia of Women's Health Issues and Encyclopedia of
Political Anarchy. Gay offers 200 alphabetical entries in the first book,
including controversies in women's health, concise biographies, and
entries on sexual abuse, abortion, dieting, obesity, and a wealth of other
topics. "The book's approach is evenhanded," noted a Booklist reviewer, who also
felt that "the reading level should be comfortable for both general
adults and teen audiences." Barbara M. Bibel, writing in Library Journal, called
the same work "a good starting point for research on gender issues in
healthcare policy." In her Encyclopedia of Political Anarchy, written in
collaboration with son Martin, Gay attempts to clear up what she feels is one of the
most misunderstood political movements in history. Her 170 entries
include short biographical profiles on people from Mary Wollstonecraft to Emma
Goldman and Noam Chomsky, and on topics from the Haymarket affair to the
"Through the written word," Gay once told CA, "I feel I have been able
to share with young people and adults some of the observations and
impressions I have had on what it means to be a person, a productive human being. So
many different conditions and factors shape each one of us as individuals
that I am often amazed we are able to understand one another at all.
Happily, though, there are many experiences in life that are common to all of us,
and a writer can draw on these in stories and articles to help readers
see, hear, feel with real or imaginary people."
Awards: First prize in literary section, Northern Indiana Arts Festival,
1965, for one-act play; "outstanding book" selection, National Council
for the Social Studies and National Science Teachers' Association, 1983,
for Acid Rain, and 1988, for Silent Killers: Radon and Other Hazards;
"notable books for young people" selection, American Library Association (ALA),
1993, for Global Garbage: Exporting Trash and Toxic Waste; included in
"books for the teen age" list, New York Public Library, 1994, for Church
and State: Government and Religion in the United States and Caretakers
of the Earth, 1995, for Getting Your Message Across and Pregnancy:
Private Decisions, Public Debates, and 1996, for Keep the Buttered Side Up: Food
Superstitions from Around the World; included on ALA recommended list for
young adult books on terrorism, 2000, for Silent Death: The Threat of
Chemical and Biological Terrorism; Voya's Nonfiction Honor List, 2003, for Body
Marks, 2007, for Am I Fat?
Projects under way include Food: The New Gold (part of a series on global crises)and Biogotry and Intolerance--the Ultimate Teen Guide