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|Born||Janice Meredith Wilson
March 14, 1937
Lenoir, North Carolina
Jan Karon is an American novelist who writes for both adults and young readers. She is the author of the New York Times-bestselling Mitford novels, featuring Father Timothy Kavanagh, an Episcopal priest, and the fictional village of Mitford. Her most recent Mitford novel, To Be Where You Are, was released in September 2017. She has been designated a lay Canon for the Arts in the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy (Illinois) by Keith Ackerman, Episcopal Bishop of Quincy, and in 2015, she was awarded the Library of Virginia's Literary Lifetime Achievement Award. Her original papers-to date are archived in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.
Karon was born on March 14, 1937 in the Blue Ridge foothills town of Lenoir, North Carolina as Janice Meredith Wilson. She was named Janice Meredith Wilson, after the novel Janice Meredith. Before Karon was 4, her parents split up and left her with her maternal grandparents on a farm a few miles from Lenoir. Her mother Wanda, who was 15 at Karon's birth, went to Charlotte. Her father, Robert Wilson, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.
At age 12, Karon moved to Charlotte to rejoin her mother, who had married Toby Setzer and had two more children. Karon dropped out of school in ninth grade, at 14, and married Robert Freeland in South Carolina, where girls her age could do so legally. Freeland, who was five years older, worked at a Charlotte tire store, while Karon worked in a clothing store. At age 15, she gave birth to her only child, Candace Freeland.
Karon and Freeland's marriage was troubled from the beginning, and tragedy rocked it further. While Freeland was sitting in a car with one of his brothers and one or more friends, a gun was handed through the window and went off. The bullet punctured one of Robert Freeland's lungs and chipped his spine, nearly killing him and leaving him paralyzed. Karon was distraught, the marriage suffered, and she filed for divorce.
Karon, age 18, was on her own with Candace. She took a receptionist job at Walter J. Klein Co., a Charlotte advertising agency. Bored with answering the phone, she submitted writing examples. Klein soon had her writing advertising copy. In her early 20s, Karon married Bill Orth, a Duke Power chemist. Orth was active with Karon in theater and the Unitarian Church. By the late 1960s, Karon and Orth were divorced, and she had married a third time, to Arthur Karon, a clothing salesman. Arthur moved his wife and her daughter to Berkeley, California, where they lived for three years.
In California, Karon practiced Judaism, but she did not convert from Christianity. Karon wanted to be a novelist, and tried all through the 1960s. When Karon's third marriage ended she returned to Charlotte and again worked in advertising. By 1985, Karon had moved to Raleigh and the McKinney & Silver advertising agency, where she had worked in the late 1970s. Karon and Michael Winslow, a Mckinney designer, collaborated on a tourism campaign, interviewing artisans, musicians and others for print ads aimed at showing that North Carolina had other attractions besides theme parks and big hotels. One ad featured mountain musicians under the headline, "The Best Place to Hear Old English Music Is 3,000 Miles West of London." The campaign, which ran in National Geographic and other magazines, won the 1987 Kelly Award, the print advertising equivalent of the Academy Award. Karon and Winslow split a $100,000 prize.
In 1988, Karon quit her job, traded her Mercedes for a used Toyota and moved to Blowing Rock. In Blowing Rock, Karon began writing Father Tim stories for the Blowing Rocket newspaper. An agent circulated Karon's fiction to publishers, but got only rejections. In 1994, Karon herself placed her work with a small religious publisher, which brought out a volume titled At Home in Mitford. Karon kept writing, and employed her marketing skills to promote her book, writing press releases and cold-calling bookstores. But the publisher offered limited distribution and little marketing muscle of its own. Two more Mitford novels appeared. Sales remained modest. Then Karon's friend Mary Richardson, mother of Carolina Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson, showed At Home in Mitford to Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh. Olson felt there was a large audience looking for clean, well-written fiction. She sent Karon's book to a New York agent friend, who got it to Carolyn Carlson, an editor at Viking Penguin and daughter of a Lutheran minister. Carlson faced opposition at Viking Penguin, a mainstream publisher unused to Christian fiction. But in 1996 the New York firm brought out Karon's first three titles as paperbacks. The publisher also put Karon on a cross-country promotional tour. Meanwhile, independent bookstore workers began reading and championing her novels. By the late 1990s, Karon's books were New York Times bestsellers.
In 2000, Karon left Blowing Rock and moved to Virginia, where she has restored an 1816 home, set in a working farm of 100 acres.
- At Home in Mitford (1994)
- A Light in the Window (1995)
- These High, Green Hills (1996)
- Out to Canaan (1997)
- A New Song (1999)
- A Common Life: the Wedding Story (2001)
- In This Mountain (2002)
- Shepherds Abiding (2003)
- Light from Heaven (2005)
- Home to Holly Springs (2007)
- In the Company of Others (2010)
- Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)
- Come Rain or Come Shine (2015)
- To Be Where You Are (2017)
- Miss Fannie's Hat (1998)
- Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny (2000)
- Jan Karon Presents: Violet Comes to Stay (2006)
- Jan Karon Presents: Violet Goes to the Country (2007)
- The Mitford Snowmen (2001)
- Esther's Gift: A Mitford Christmas Story (2002)
- Patches of Godlight: Father Tim's Favorite Quotes (2001) - religious quotes used in the Mitford series
- The Trellis and the Seed: A Book of Encouragement for All Ages (2003)
- Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader (2004)
- A Continual Feast: Words of Comfort and Celebration, collected by Father Tim (2005)
- The Mitford Bedside Companion (2006)
- Jan Karon Infosite site Archived August 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Author Jan Karon honored with Library of Virginia's 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Charlotte Observer, August 14, 2005
- "Jan's Books -". www.mitfordbooks.com. Retrieved 2015-11-16.