Kathy Lowinger was only nine months old when she and her parents fled Hungary on Christmas Eve, 1950. They joined the thousands of displaced people adrift in Europe in the aftermath of WWII. They thought they were going to Brazil, where her uncle lived, but at the last minute, they got word that he had moved to a cherry orchard in Grimsby, Ontario. Her parents had never heard of Grimsby, or of Ontario, which ended up being their first home in Canada. Within months, they had moved again, this time to a boarding house in Hamilton’s north end. When Kathy started school, they moved to the west end.
Her childhood was populated by her dog, Lassie, and a herd of imaginary horses. She was in love with Roy Rogers until she was eight. She also loved to read. Thanks to the Westdale branch of the Hamilton Public Library, she devoured books. Her favorite was Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl.
Kathy left Hamilton for the University of Toronto to study anthropology in 1968. Although English had always been her favorite subject, she realized early on that people spent whole, satisfactory lives, without knowing or caring what T. S. Eliot meant by “let us go then, you and I.” She wanted a broader world view.
She had always loved anthropology, or ethnography. When she watched Tarzan movies or Westerns, she was more interested in the “natives” than the plot. She wanted to know what they ate, what they wore, what they believed, and she always imagined herself growing up as one of them.
She entered the PhD program at the University of Cambridge and did field work in Antigua. Though she had a completed thesis, she left the academic track and got what she thought would be a temporary job at the Ontario Association for the Mentally Retarded (now called the Ontario Association for Community Living). She loved it and spent a challenging, rewarding, and draining ten years working with advocacy groups.
After ten years in human services, she desperately needed a change. She happened to see a small ad for the position of executive director at the Children’s Book Centre. That is how she stumbled into the field of publishing. Five years later, she started a children’s list for Lester & Orpen Dennys, and stayed in children’s publishing for the rest of her career.
She learned to write and to edit from two people. William Manson was her Grade 13 English teacher. He taught his students how to frame material, especially non-fiction, with a formula that she still uses. Her other teacher was the brilliant editor Louise Dennys. When Kathy started her first list, she worked from a table in the corner of Dennys’s office. By listening to her, by osmosis, by mimicry, and by eavesdropping, she was lucky enough to learn to edit from the very best.
Kathy’s first book with Annick, Shifting Sands: Life in the Times of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (2014) proved to be a challenging task. “The biggest challenge in writing the book was fighting against reducing three complex religions to a single set of shared core values.”
Her latest book, Give Me Wings! How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World (Fall 2015) tells the story of Ella Sheppard, a girl born into slavery in the 1800s, who went on to form the Jubilee Singers. The Jubilees influenced modern American music with their spirituals, thrilling white audiences who were used to more sedate songs. Kathy herself was introduced to spirituals at a young age. Her parents were huge fans of Mahalia Jackson, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.
Kathy lives in Toronto with her husband, Bill Harnum and a menagerie of cats and dogs. In addition to writing, Kathy is a dedicated pianist.