With her 25th book, Rider alumna’s prolific career shows no sign of slowing down ‘Flibbertigibbery Words’ by Donna Guthrie ’68 tells the story of a young William Shakespeare
One day in the summer of 1983, Donna Guthrie ’68 left her young family in Colorado and headed to Los Angeles. She brought a manuscript for a children’s book along, which she hoped to get in the hands of an editor at a writer’s conference.
Guthrie had been nursing a dream of becoming a writer since childhood. She had written several manuscripts for children’s books, but up to that point, received no interest from publishers.
“I’d made a firm decision that unless I received a ‘sign’ of some sort at that conference, I would unplug my electric typewriter and go back to being a full-time wife, mother, friend, and volunteer,” Guthrie says.
At the conference, an editor from Harcourt decided to take a shot on the first-time author. The Witch Who Lives Down the Hall began a remarkable run for Guthrie — one that continues to this day for the 73-year-old author, filmmaker, lecturer, and podcast host.
This fall, Page Street Publishing Co. will publish Guthrie’s 25th book, Flibbertigibbery Words, the story of a young William Shakespeare who awakens one day to a torrent of words pouring into his open window. As he attempts to wrangle the words, they lead him out of the house and into encounters with many of the characters he wrote about in his plays.
“I’m often on the lookout for places or topics that haven’t been written about,” says Guthrie. “My husband, Mike, and I have gone to a number of Shakespeare festivals, and I began to notice how few picture books there are about Shakespeare.”
Flibbertigibbet Words, Guthrie says, is really about creativity — a topic she’s well-versed in. In addition to being an author, Guthrie has embraced a variety of forms and subjects.
She is the co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, the longest-running women’s film festival in North America. She hosts a podcast on the history of country music called Looking Back on Music Row. She founded an audiovisual company called Kids Corner that produced films to educate children about medical, health, and family issues, which she later sold to Myers Broadcasting Company.
“Not all of my ideas come true, but I try to focus on one thing at a time,” Guthrie says. “I know it’s difficult sometimes for artistic people to put the legs underneath an idea. I think I have a great support system in Colorado Springs. I couldn’t have done some of these things elsewhere, but I could do it here.”
Although Colorado Springs has been her home for many years, Guthrie is originally from Pennsylvania. She grew up on a large family farm in Amity, a few hundred miles away from Rider. It was far enough from home to create some distance and allow her to grow, but not too far where she couldn’t get home in a pinch if needed.
She majored in journalism and wrote for the student newspaper. But after graduating she found it easier to get a job as a teacher than a reporter. She earned a certificate to teach at Montessori schools and eventually packed up to teach in Colorado.
In Colorado, Guthrie married and started a family, but she still hungered for a writing career. She wrote her first manuscripts while her young children napped. “We had a very small house at the time, and we cleaned out a closet and set up a board and a chair so I could have a place to write,” Guthrie says. ‘I wrote in that closet for a very long time.”
Over the years, she has identified some elements that make up a good children’s book. “Children’s writing has changed over time, but basically, you still need a good story,” Guthrie says. “Something needs to happen to the main character. It has to have a rhythm, almost like a poem. And you have to remember who is reading the books: It’s the adults. In my books, I try to always include things that appeal to adults.”
Many of Guthrie’s books have received favorable reviews from publications like Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. The reviews are gratifying, and they help Guthrie with her main goals: “I’d like to have my books in as many kids’ hands as possible,”’ she says, “and I’d like the books to last.”