Mary Mackey was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and is related to Mark Twain through her father’s family. While attending Harvard College, Mackey, an English major, came under the influence of the father of modern ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes to whom she attributes a life-long interest in botany and ecology, themes which often appear in her novels and poetry. During her twenties, she lived in field stations in the then-remote jungles of Costa Rica. After receiving her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan, she moved to California to become Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). She is married to Angus Wright, CSUS Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies, with whom she frequently travels to Brazil.
Mackey’s published works include eight volumes of poetry (Split Ends, One Night Stand, Skin Deep, The Dear Dance of Eros, Travelers With No Ticket Home, Breaking the Fever, Sugar Zone,winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence) and The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, winner of the Erich Hoffer Award for the Best Book Published by a small press; a short novel (Immersion—the first novel published by a Second Wave feminist press); and thirteen other novels (McCarthy’s List, Doubleday; The Last Warrior Queen, Putnam; A Grand Passion, Simon & Schuster; Season of Shadows, Bantam; The Kindness of Strangers, Simon & Schuster; The Year The Horses Came, Harper San Francisco; The Horses at the Gate, Harper San Francisco; The Fires of Spring, Penguin, The Stand In, Kensington Books, Sweet Revenge, Kensington Books; The Notorious Mrs. Winston, Berkley Books; The Widow’s War, Berkley Books, and The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, Lowenstein Associates) Her two comic novels (The Stand In and Sweet Revenge) were written under the pen name “Kate Clemens.” Her recently published non-fiction book Creativity:Where Poems Begin looks at the origins of inspiration.
Mackey’s works have appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists, sold over a million and a half copies, and been translated into twelve foreign languages including Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Greek, and Finnish. A screenwriter as well as a novelist and poet, she has sold feature-length screenplays to Warner Brothers as well as to independent film companies. John Korty directed the filming of her original award-winning screenplay Silence. On four occasions, Garrison Keillor has read her poetry on his radio show/podcast The Writer’s Almanac.
Mackey’s nonfiction and memoirs have appeared in various anthologies. She has reviewed books for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News, American Book Review,and a variety of other publications; has lectured at Harvard and the Smithsonian; and has contributed to such diverse print and on-line publications as The Chiron Review, Redbook, and Salon.
From 1989-1992, she served as President of the West Coast Branch of PEN American Center involving herself in PEN’s international defense of persecuted writers. She has also served on the Governing Board of PEN Oakland. A fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she is an active member of the St. Mary’s College Creative Writing Program Advisory Board, the Poetry Committee of the Northern California Book Awards, the National Book Critics Circle, and The Authors Guild. In Spring 2009, the San Francisco Branch of the National League of American Pen Women established the Mary Mackey Short Story Prize. Mackey was one of the founders of the CSUS Women’s Studies Program. She also founded the CSUS English Department Graduate Creative Writing Program along with poet Dennis Schmitz and novelist Richard Bankowsky. In 1978 Mackey founded the Feminist Writers Guild with poets Adrienne Rich and Susan Griffin and novelist Valerie Miner.
Mackey, an Emeritus Professor of English, taught Creative Writing and Film at the graduate and undergraduate levels at California State University, Sacramento until her retirement in 2008. Her former students include Ryan Coogler, writer and director of the film Fruitvale Station.
Mackey’s literary papers are archived in the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Other resources for biographical information about Mary Mackey include:
An extensive biography of Mary Mackey is available in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 27, published by Gale Research, Detroit, MI: 1997.