In nearly 40 years as a professional writer, Debby Waldman has written for a wide variety of publications including People, Parents, Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Glamour, Chatelaine, National Geographic World, The Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly. She has also written or co-written eight books and had her work published in a number of anthologies.
Debby was inspired to become a newspaper reporter after watching an episode of the 1970s television series, “The Waltons.” In that episode, the character John-Boy, an aspiring novelist, decided to go into journalism because his parents, much like Debby’s, insisted that he get “a real job.”
Journalism was the answer to Debby’s dilemma about how to have a career as a writer and still earn a salary that would come with health insurance (another of her parents’ dictates). She got her start writing for her high school newspaper, the Utica Free Academy Corridors, and went on to study journalism at Syracuse University, where she wrote for and later worked as an editor at the university’s newspaper, The Daily Orange.
Ironically, in her first job as a real (i.e., paid) reporter, at the Cape Cod Times, Debby interviewed the actor who played John-Boy Walton. He was so unpleasant that she abandoned her plans to to tell him that he had inspired her career choice. She learned a valuable lesson that day: actors are not necessarily like the characters they play on TV, and a reporter should not allow her preconceived notions to cloud her judgment.
For Debby, the best part of being a writer has been the opportunity to earn a living by combining her love of words with her curiosity about and fascination with people’s stories. Her career has provided her with memorable experiences, including swapping stories with Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn, during his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984; discussing knitting with Boy George in the lobby of Radio City Music Hall during the second annual MTV Music Video Awards; and being called “brilliant” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson during a candid interview at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.
After meeting Wilson, she briefly considered a playwrighting career, but books were and remain her first love. And so, after nearly four years reporting for the New Haven Register, she went off to Cornell University to earn an MFA in creative writing. As she often tells students, you don’t need a degree to be a creative writer, but the program was a wonderful way to be surrounded for a few years by like-minded creative people in a supportive environment. It also provided her with an opportunity to learn how to teach writing, as that was one of the jobs she had while going to graduate school.
Debby considers herself a jack-of-all trades writer: in addition to short-form journalism, she has co-written two books for parents of hard-of-hearing children, three picture books, two middle grade chapter books, a book for kids about women athletes, public relations copy for a telephone company, radio scripts for a CBC morning talk show, and magazine and newspaper articles about everything from boy scouts to strippers.
She has also taught writing and journalism at Cornell, Ithaca College, St. Lawrence University, and Grant MacEwan University. She wrote a family-humor column for the Edmonton Journal, and was writer-in-residence at Grant MacEwan when it went from being a college to a university (though it would be misleading to credit her with the upgrade).
Since 2011, she has been a writing advisor at the Student Success Centre at the University of Alberta, helping mostly international graduate students (and some professors) with their writing.
She enjoys visiting schools to read from her books and talk to students about her writing life. She delivers the talk she wishes she’d been able to hear growing up in Utica, New York: that there’s more than one way to be a writer, and if you’re passionate, dedicated, committed and able, you can carve out your own writing life.
Debby’s non-writing life revolves around her friends and her family: her husband, her two young adult children, and their lab-labradoodle in Edmonton, Alberta; and relatives elsewhere in Alberta, Ontario, and throughout the United States, where she lived until moving to Canada in 1992.