Polly Wells

Polly Wells

Polly Wells started out life in Puerto Rico. Her earliest memories are of nesting with her big sister in a bamboo grove in San Juan. When she was three, her family moved to Philadelphia.

Polly and her sister were the “big girls,” sharing bedrooms, clothes, toys, and books. The family kept expanding, until they were the oldest of six children. Her favorite pastimes were looking for outdoor adventure, playing made-up games, biking and reading. She also loved asking adults about their childhoods.

Her parents were both scholarly types and their house was full of books, from classical poets and Shakespeare to contemporary literature and political science. At bedtime, her parents took turns reading to all the children, especially the English writers they had read growing up: C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, and illustrated adventure stories by Howard Pyle and Arthur Ransome. On her own, she read The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. In high school, she played competitive sports, listened to rock music, and went to movies. She also discovered Virginia Woolf and Dostoyevsky. She has always loved the look and feel of books, but reading wonderful writers, more than anything, inspired her to write.

In her twenties, she studied filmmaking as an apprentice, literature and history as an undergraduate, and journalism as a grad student. All her favorite subjects, and every job she ever had, required her to write. But she didn’t think of herself as a writer until she worked at a newspaper, filing stories on deadline, day in and day out.

Her interest in journalism and film led to a career in documentary and fact-based television. She enjoys the variety and challenge of project-based work, and the satisfaction of seeing a film or program emerge out of countless creative choices. What she loves most is interviewing people: listening to them talk about something important to them is her idea of a perfect job.

The writing part doesn’t always come easily, though. Sometimes she has to glue herself to a chair and start typing—jumbled ideas, stream of consciousness, anything to get words onto paper. This frees her to think, allowing ideas to take shape. She’s learned that the best stories arise from curiosity: an idea or fact that intrigues her, or a detail that doesn’t sit right. The desire to understand is a writer’s best friend.

One of her most satisfying projects was when her family celebrated her father’s 75th birthday. It struck her that she really didn’t know much about his life. Curious to find out more, she recorded 17 hours of interviews with him over a period of three years. The result was a 200-page oral history—and a much closer relationship with her dad. This book will never be published, but it’s the work she is most proud of.

Curiosity struck again while she was working on a documentary about anxiety. She was surprised how common anxiety is, and the toll it can take on people’s lives. Anxiety is part of being human, but when it careens out of control, life can become a misery. As the mother of two teenagers, she wants young people to feel compassion for themselves and others when worry runs amok in their brains. It’s good to know that anxiety is one of the most treatable forms of mental distress. With the right help, it does get better.

She interviewed young adults from all over North America for her book, Freaking Out: Real-life Stories about Anxiety (Fall 2013). The people who shared their stories with her did so out of courage and a desire to help others. She knew that she had to be worthy of their trust. She would like to thank them on behalf of all who may learn from their experiences.

Polly lives with her family in Toronto, Ontario. She is an avid photographer and movie-watcher, and loves making photo books. She is currently writing and directing a documentary about song circles.

Annick Press books
edited by Polly Wells