Achievement in the Liberal Arts

Jennifer McJunkin has already achieved recognition in fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting, and she will be the first to tell you how important Drew has been to her career.

Jennifer grew up in Richmond, Indiana, where her father was an administrator at Earlham College.  He suggested Drew, where Jennifer found the special, close community she was seeking.  She is grateful for Drew’s excellence, and she especially remembers professors Geraldine Smith-Wright and Frank Occhiogrosso, who helped shape her writing.  She took advantage of some very special opportunities:  not only did she study film and television for two semesters at Southern Methodist University, but she also did an independent study with James Earl Jones.  Following graduation, she enrolled in the American Film Institute, where she received the Colin Higgins Award for Screenwriting and an Emmy award upon completing her Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting in 1995.

In addition to screenwriting, Jennifer is also well-recognized for her books, published under the name of Jennifer Niven.  Here she has followed in the footsteps of her mother, Penelope Niven, who is known for her biographies of poets and playwrights and is Jennifer’s greatest inspiration.  Jennifer’s first book, The Ice Master (2000), a report of an ill-starred Arctic exploration, was named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, has been translated into eight languages, earned its author the title of Barnes & Noble Great New Writer, and has been featured in numerous television documentaries.  It received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.  Ada Blackjack (2003), about another ill-fated Arctic venture, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, has been optioned for the movies, and has appeared in three translations.

Jennifer developed her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive, from a screenplay she based upon a short story by her mother.  This compelling tale evokes life in the 1930s and ’40s in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, the area where Jennifer’s father’s family lived for many decades.  The bestselling book was picked for the Indie Next List in August 2009, and was also a Costco Book of the Month.  Velva Jean’s story continues in Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and the third novel, Becoming Clementine, has just been published.  Jennifer has also published a memoir of her high school days, and is currently developing an idea for an original television series with a major studio while writing a fourth Velva Jean novel.

When she is not writing, or mentoring young writers and filmmakers, Jennifer is often involved in animal welfare organizations.  She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, photographer and computer security architect Louis Kapeleris, and their three cats.  In addition to family, writing, and felines, she is also passionate about Drew, and takes every opportunity to let people know where she went to school and why Drew is so very special.