Nancy McCabe grew up in a middle-sized house on the prairie outside of Wichita, Kansas—the same land once owned by the Osage Indians a couple hours from the setting of Little House on the Prairie. An avid reader and writer as a child, she worried that she lacked the imagination of favorite heroines like Anne of Green Gables or Eunice Young Smith’s Jennifer, who invented whimsical conversations between flowers and fantasized that they could talk to bumblebees. But she was shaped by these heroines, as well as Jo March’s creativity and independence, Laura Ingalls’s connection to nature and rebellious spirit, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Ray’s writing ambitions and passion for friendship. These formative books and heroines kindled her own interest in writing for young readers.
While working on an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Arkansas, she taught college students and frequently traveled to teach as a writer in the schools, putting together the book Making Poems: Writing Exercises for the Classroom that was distributed throughout the state. She continued to be drawn to teaching, inspired by the process of sharing what she loved with students of all ages, and went on to teach college in Missouri, earn a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and spend five years at a college in South Carolina before she landed in Western Pennsylvania, where she directs the creative and professional writing program at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. She also mentors for the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University in Kentucky.
In 1999, she became a single parent by choice when she adopted her daughter Sophie from China. In the fifth grade, Sophie decided to read everything on the Coretta Scott King award list, bringing home a rich array of books about heroines from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, renewing Nancy’s interest in writing for children. Fires Burning Underground is her first book for middle grade readers, a story about a friendship as twelve-year-old Anny struggles with secrets and navigates a path between childhood and adolescence, imagination and identity.
Nancy is the author of seven previous books, including one about rereading books from childhood and visiting tourist sites related to them, From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, published by the University of Missouri Press. More recently, Outpost 19 published her new adult ghost story Following Disasters, and her young adult novel Vaulting through Time is due out from CamCat Books in summer 2023. In addition, she’s published through Missouri a memoir about her youthful marriage Can This Marriage be Saved and two books about China adoption. She also has an essay collection from Purdue. Her essays, articles, stories, and poems have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Harpur Palate, LARB, the Ploughshares blog, Prairie Schooner, the Brevity Blog, and many others. She’s the recipient of a Pushcart and her work has been cited as notable essays of the year eight times in Best American Essays and once in Best American Nonrequired Reading.