New York Times best-selling author A. Manette Ansay lives and writes east of Boulder, Colorado, where she enjoys freelancing as a writing mentor and college essay coach. She is Professor Emeritus at The University of Miami, where she served as director of the MFA program, taught courses in fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, and advised and mentored undergraduate and graduate students. Her novels include Vinegar Hill, an Oprah Book Club Selection, and Midnight Champagne, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as Sister, River Angel, Blue Water and Good Things I Wish You. She has also published a memoir, Limbo, and a short story collection, Read This and Tell Me What It Says, which won the AWP Short Fiction Series Prize. Honors and Awards include the Chancellor’s Award from the University of Wisconsin/Whitewater, the Stillwater Society Presidential Award for Achievement from the University of Maine, the Banta Prize from the Wisconsin Librarians Association, two Great Lakes Book Awards from the Great Lakes Booksellers Association, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and Pushcart Prize for Fiction.
The Long Story:
I was born in Michigan, outside Detroit, but I moved to a small town north of Milwaukee when I was five. There I took Suzuki piano lessons with a wonderful local teacher, traveling each summer to music camps. In high school, I went on to take lessons at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Conservatory. After graduating from Port Washington High School in 1982, I attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music as a piano performance major, but I was forced to leave in 1984 as a result of increasing health problems. By the fall of ’85, I was unable to walk, and at that time I was (mis)diagnosed with MS. I wound up bedridden, cared for by my parents, until spring of ’87, when I was able to get around again using a wheelchair, and then (as things improved over the years) a scooter and, finally, a cane. My health stabilized during my forties and though I have occasional mild flare-ups (and chronic eye strain) I entered my fifties in good health, which I do not take for granted. There’s a theory that I had some kind of immune reaction to something, but this is speculation: I still don’t really know what happened to me, I’m just grateful that it’s gone. I completed a degree in Anthropology from the University of Maine, where Dr. Edward (“Sandy”) Ives handed me a book of poems and said, “What do you think about these?” And I thought: Maybe I could be a writer.
On January 1, 1988, I made a New Year’s resolution that I would write for two hours three times a week, and this was a decision that led me to attend the University of South Florida, where I earned a second undergraduate degree in Creative Writing. Along the way, I’d learned about MFA programs. I applied to Cornell and what still seems like a miracle occurred. James McConkey read my first stories and saw something teachable in me. I was accepted into the program, a life-changing experience.
I attended Cornell from fall of ’89 until spring of ’91, during which time I married my first husband, Jake Smith, and began publishing short stories. After graduating from Cornell, I held a lectureship there from ’91-’92. From ’92-’93, I was Writer in Residence a Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, and it was there that I learned my first novel, Vinegar Hill, would be published in 1994. From ’93-’97 I was an assistant professor at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. During that time, I published two more books—a story collection, Read This and Tell Me What It Says, and my second novel, Sister—and in spring of ’97, I resigned from full-time academia in order to concentrate on my writing. Over the next few years, I published two more novels—River Angel and Midnight Champagne, a 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist—and I taught in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College, the University of the South, and I spent a semester at Marquette University, where I held the Women’s Chair in Humanistic Studies. Other awards include the Nelson Algren Prize from the Chicago Tribune and the Great Lakes Book Award. My memoir, Limbo, documents my life up until this time, including the moment that my first novel, Vinegar Hill, was selected as an Oprah Winfrey Book Club Pick. In 2000-2001, Jake and I bought a blue water sailboat, and we lived on it, off and on, until our daughter was born.
In 2004, I took a Visiting Professorship at the University of Miami and discovered how much I’d missed having colleagues, students, an academic home. I ended up staying there 15 years, and while academic life was increasingly in conflict with my writing career, these years were also some of the most rewarding of my life. My marriage to Jake ended in 2006, I married Winfried Reichelt in 2013, and through him I have three step-children and a grandson, in addition to my biological daughter. During this time I wrote three more books and published two of them: Blue Water, about a couple who moves onto a sailboat after the death of their son, and Good Things I Wish You, which collages a contemporary love story with the story of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Blue Water was chosen by both Target and Lifetime as their book-of-the-month pick. Good Things won a Florida Book Award and was one of USA Today’s summer reading selections. The third book, also a novel, was provisionally accepted for publication by HarperCollins, but a combination of work, family and unrelenting eyestrain made me drop the ball on the revisions. In the end, I let it go, the way I let go of so many things around that time: friendships, hobbies, pretty much anything that wasn’t a small fire burning in front of me.
In 2017, I joined Winfried in Overland Park, Kansas, where he had been working since 2013. After three years of commuting back and forth to Miami, Covid-19 came along, and I retired Professor Emeritus in June of 2020. One of the highlights of my 4 years in Kansas was mentoring my daughter’s First Tech Challenge Robotics Team, Team 6547, the Cobalt Colts, and serving as a First Tech Challenge judge in Kansas and Missouri. In 2019, the Colts won the First Tech Challenge World Championships (Winning Alliance, Second Pick) in Houston, Texas. It’s one of those moments, like the phone call from Oprah, that still doesn’t quite seem real. All graduating members of the team went on to universities. Nine, including my daughter, are now study engineering; the tenth is studying business. Mentoring them through the college application and essay writing process, I discovered a new passion.
Winfried and I moved to Colorado in June of 2021, and since then, we are both spending as much time exploring the mountains as possible. In 2022, I wrote a short story, now in circulation. It’s the first piece of writing I’ve completed since the essays I wrote for the Key West Literary Workshops in 2015. What can I say? These days I am the world’s slowest writer, way too relaxed, easily distracted by many pleasant things. I enjoy mentoring college and university applicants, working one-on-one with developing writers, and leading generative writing workshops for the community.