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One-on-one with award-winning Minnesota children's author Kate DiCamillo

DiCamillo hoped her first book, "Because of Winn-Dixie," would sell 5,000 copies. It went on to win a Newberry honor that would help propel sales to 11 million.

MINNEAPOLIS — Kate DiCamillo is one the most successful children’s authors in the country and lives right here in Minnesota — a move she actually credits as a big part of her success.

Though Kate DiCamillo did not grow up here, her reaction to her massive success is decidedly Minnesotan.

When asked about her career she shakes her head in disbelief.

“It’s impossible,” she said.

DiCamillo is a New York Times bestselling author with more than 43 million books in print. Two of them, "The Tale of Despereaux," and "Flora and Ulysses," are Newberry Award winners. Six of her books have either been made into movies — or soon will be.

DiCamillo came from humble beginnings. Growing up in Florida, her childhood battles with chronic pneumonia caused her to miss a lot of school and fueled her love of reading.

“I was home alone a lot and I had books,” she said. “And that was fantastic."

When she got to college, a professor complimented her on her writing and suggested she go to graduate school. She took the compliment to heart but skipped grad school. Instead, she said, she started calling herself a writer and “wearing turtlenecks and acting cool” while working odd jobs at places like Disneyworld.

She didn't start writing until she turned 30 and moved to Minnesota.

“You know, I probably wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if I hadn't moved from Florida to Minnesota and gotten a job in a book warehouse down in the Warehouse District called The Bookman,” she said.

By sheer chance, DiCamillo was assigned to the children’s section where she started reading the books and decided to try her hand at children’s literature.

Every day before work, she would set her alarm for 4:30 a.m. She dedicated herself to writing two pages a day, five days a week. Eventually, she had a story to send out, but for six years, no one noticed.

The rejection letters piled up, but she kept writing. She would collect 473 rejection letters before a publisher contacted her.

“I look at that number, 473, and I think, 'What if it stopped at 471?' I wouldn't be standing here talking to you today,” she reflected. “I wouldn't be this person who has found what she wants to do with her life and gets to do it, you know?”

Her first book, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” is a tale about a girl and her dog. DiCamillo wrote it during her second winter here in Minnesota.

“Because of Winn-Dixie is a book about homesickness in many ways and it's a book about missing the South,” she said. “And so, you know, it's like I couldn't have written it unless I left."

DiCamillo hoped the book would sell 5,000 copies, but it won a Newberry honor, which propelled it to the top of the charts. It went on to sell 11 million copies, forever changing her life.

She quit the warehouse job, bought a house in Minneapolis and started writing full-time.

She still writes out of her home office, still before dawn, still two pages a day, five days a week. But the homesickness of her early days and her very definition of home has changed.

Minnesota, she said, now feels like where she is supposed to be. 

“This...this is home,” she said. “This is my place.”

DiCamillo is scheduled to appear at two reading events next month, the details of which can be found below.

  • B&N Summer reading event - Maple Grove

    Saturday, May 6 at 1 p.m. 

    Maple Grove, #2749,
    8040 Wedgewood Lane, Maple Grove, MN 55369

  • B&N Summer reading event - Eden Prairie

    Saturday, May 13 at 11 a.m.

    Eden Prairie Center, Store #2048
    8251 Flying Cloud Dr. #3000, Eden Prairie, MN 55344


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