I’ve been drawn to books and the written word ever since the age of four, when my older sister taught me to read in the orange-cushioned window seat of our book-filled house. As a young adult, my meandering career path took me through a stint in social services before attending graduate school to become a librarian. For five years I worked as a Teen Services Librarian for our county’s public library system. I loved the part of my job that allowed me to share my love of books with the teenagers in the communities where I worked.

JAB_author_photoDuring my time as a librarian, I began my first nonfiction writing endeavor, about a series of health problems I’d had in my twenties and early thirties. I became more and more interested in the process of telling my story. I took some writing classes.  I quit my library job and my husband Matt and I adopted our son, Caleb. I kept writing. When Caleb was a year and a half, I entered an MFA program, the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. In the middle of my first semester, we adopted our daughter, Helen.  I kept writing. I received my MFA in August 2012. I’m still writing: memoir and personal essays; short, long, medium-sized.

Scott Russell Sanders says that the personal essay “moves from uncertainty to less uncertainty.” That’s what I love about nonfiction writing — the process of grappling with an idea or an experience on the page. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, not when I sit down to draft the opening sentence, nor when I polish a piece for the last time. For me, writing is a process of exploration. It’s similar to my experience of being a parent: challenging and full of wonder. Both roles require large doses of courage and humility, and both are aided by having plenty of tissues and snacks readily available.


Janet Buttenwieser’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Under the Sun, Potomac Review, The Pinch, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her memoir, GUTS, was a finalist for the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize and will be published by Vine Leaves Press in 2018. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was a finalist for Oregon Quarterly’s Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest, and won honorable mention in The Atlantic Student Writing contest, the New Millennium Writings Award and the Artsmith Literary Award. She holds an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.

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