I was born in Chicago, and raised for ten years in a suburb there. When I was ten, though, our family moved to a farm in Wisconsin, which was an amazing switch for all of us. If my eyes weren't already wide enough, in 1974, when I was seventeen, I traveled to Sri Lanka as an AFS student. While I was there I thought I wanted to become a poet (before that I wanted to be an oceanographer), or a writer/photographer for National Geographic.
In college, I started out studying journalism, but several English professors at St. Norbert College, where I got my B.A., got me interested in creative writing. They encouraged me to create my own major in creative writing, and urged me to go to graduate school, which I did. I was lucky enough to study fiction writing under Tobias Wolff and the late Raymond Carver at Syracuse University. I got my M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse in 1982. I was also lucky enough to meet my wife Krystyna there.
To support myself along the way I worked in canning factories and warehouses, as a garbageman, as a hotel desk clerk, as a cookie salesman, as a book store clerk. I also got lucky--Matty's Heart, a collection of short fiction, was selected for a New Voices Award and was published by New Rivers Press in 1984. The title novella is narrated by a female 56-year-old town clerk, and I knew I had done something well when the editor called me up at the hotel where I was a night clerk and was expecting to speak to a middle-aged woman, not a twenty-six-year-old man.
American Beauty, a novel, was published by Simon and Schuster in 1987. That same year our first child, Tosh, was born. He was conceived in Budapest, Hungary during our "summer of final abandon" in 1986 during a summer-long trek around Europe. After that I started teaching--first in the MFA program at The University of Memphis, and since 1990 at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since 1989 I've also been a member of the fiction faculty at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers in Asheville, North Carolina.
The 1990s saw two more children born--Roman in 1991 and Hania in 1994--and one book, an anthology I edited and for which I wrote the introduction: The Boundaries of Twilight: Czecho-Slovak Writing from the New World, which New Rivers Press published in 1991. Since then I've been teaching and writing and raising kids.
In 1999 my collection of short fiction, The Clouds in Memphis, won the Associated Writing Programs Award in Short Fiction, and it was published in November, 2000 by the University of Massachusetts Press. My new novel, The Company Car, is a comedy about fifty years in the life of a single family, and fifty years of American social history, starting with the parents getting married on television in 1952. Click here for a description.
I've been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Bush Foundation Fellowship, and a Loft-Mentor Fellowship. I live in an Arts and Crafts home built in 1909 in the Cold Spring Park neighborhood in Milwaukee.
You can learn more about CJ on his FAQ Page