“Kit McIlroy’s book beautifully showcases the poetry and the lives of Native Americans who, as children, participated in ArtsReach, a creative writing project McIlroy founded in 1986…This is indeed a book that allows us to see the effect of writing on children, not through test scores, but through their writing-through their imaginations.”
– Terry Ann Thaxton, Director, ArtsBridge and The Literacy Arts Partnership at the University of Central Florida
I wrote my first story on cardboard when I was five. It was about a squirrel in Central Park.
Though my early childhood was spent in New York City, and I live in Tucson, a small city, I’m most settled when surrounded by the boundlessness of the Southwestern deserts, Montana’s Big Sky, the biotic riot of Costa Rica and Ecuador, waters and oceans.
One of my early stories is titled “In a Landscape Animals Shrink to Nothing.”
For over 35 years I’ve taught writing to all ages and backgrounds, from pre-school to undergraduate and graduate students, families, teachers, and the incarcerated. I co-founded ArtsReach, a non-profit, to tap the talents of Native American writers. I want as much for my students’ writing as for my own—to be as large as it can be, to seize people and move them.
My services encompass writing residencies, workshops, and trainings, as well as editing and tutoring for any age or achievement level. I’m a writing coach.
After growing up six years in Manhattan’s West Village, I was transplanted by my mother to Wickenburg, Arizona, the Dude Ranch Capital of the World, to relieve my chronic bronchitis, which it did.
I continued to spend summers at our rustic cottage overlooking the Long Island Sound, however, through age fourteen. Free to swim the Sound and comb the beach, to roam the surrounding woods, marshes, and potato and corn fields, I banked stores of happiness that carried me through later, (largely self-imposed) unhappy years.
A full-floor apartment a few blocks from Washington Square, a cottage on the bluff and our own private beach, all on my father’s salary as a high school history teacher—that’s how a family could live decades ago.
My mismatched parents eventually reached a conventionally dispiriting divorce, which convinced me for years that “family life” was a bitterly ironic epithet. Now, after 31 years of marriage, a daughter of my own and two from my wife Karen’s first marriage, I have eight grandchildren. I was an only child.
In Wickenburg, my mother supported us and our horseback-riding habit on a first-grade teacher’s salary. After moving us to Tucson, she became a reading specialist. With two parents as teachers, I never intended becoming one myself. Trained as a journalist and then ne’er-do-well, I canned salmon in Alaska, dug ditches in Tucson, and lugged hand trucks in NYC’s garment district before becoming a photographer for a weekly newspaper. Karen was its circulation manager. We became a darkroom romance.
Eventually writing led me into the classroom after all, first through the Arizona Commission on the Arts, then the University of Arizona. Along with poet Mick Fedullo, Karen and I co-founded ArtsReach, a writing program for Native American communities.
For several years I’ve been author-in-residence for a Tucson school district. In retrospect, it was a (well-disguised) gift that funding for most of my school programs collapsed around 2010, along with the economy. I was forced to stray into unfamiliar livelihoods, such as editing and consulting with UNEQ, which supported research and development in unmanned systems (OK, call them “robots”), and At The Ready Magazine, an online publication devoted to rural first responders.
For a year and a half, I delved into the foundations of education itself as Coordinator for the Tohono O’odham Community of Practice, a professional development program for teachers of children age 0-5.
Karen, the oldest of nine in a blended family, always has worked. She consults for tribal and early childhood programs, as well as for Prescott College.
Our daughter Kelsey is a rigorous and generous person, a veteran of tae kwon do and high school stage crew, which are roughly equivalent experiences. Currently she is owner or part owner of two businesses (and the architect of this website makeover). When not at work she studies evolutionary genetics in her spare time. She is partial to big dogs.
Our family never has trekked across Siberia or followed the old Spice Road, but we flirt with adventure through whitewater rafting and scuba diving. I accompanied Kelsey skydiving for a Christmas present. How better to test my surgically reconstructed hip?
A writer shouldn’t have a favorite book. It should be like asking a beach to single out a grain of sand, to choose among the innumerable. But I think I do—David Huddle’s short story collection Only the Little Bone.