Karen Letitia Stolz
1957 – 2011
Karen Stolz was born in St.Louis , Missouri, on March 5, 1957. Her father, Dutch Stolz, was an Episcopalian minister. He grew up in St. Louis and returned to serve at his first parish there. St. Louis later became an important character in Karen’s book, Fanny and Sue. Karen’s mother, Jeanne, was a stay-at-home mom to Karen and her older sister, Maggie.
The family moved to Atchison, Kansas, in 1959. Karen’s experiences of growing up in a small town in Kansas forever shaped her and were very important in her writing, especially in her book World of Pies. Karen’s younger sister, Katie, was born in Atchison. Ralph, the family dog, was adopted from the animal shelter there. Atchison was the golden age of the Stolzes, as Dutch has said, with the extended family of Trinity Episcopal Church and the deep lasting friendships that were formed with members of that parish. Lazy summer days at the Country Club swimming pool and strolling along the mall downtown were how the Stolzes passed the time; it was a safe haven by a big lazy river, the calm before a political and military storm.
In 1969 the family once again relocated to Lawrence, Kansas. Karen was in junior high at this time, and embraced the liberal ideas that were the heart of this college town. Karen already knew that she was meant to be a writer, and started writing poems and short pieces. Next stop for the Stolz family was Topeka, Kansas. Here Karen found her first writing mentor in her high school English teacher, Martha Herrick. She was fortunate to participate in a student program that allowed her to spend a month in Germany.
After graduating from Topeka High School, she went to Emporia State College for a few semesters, then transferred to the University of Kansas. The professor who most influenced and inspired Karen during her studies at KU was Alan Lichter, who never let her forget that she had passion and skills that would drive her to succeed. Karen worked as a nanny while she finished her undergraduate studies, and this is when she discovered her love of nurturing a child. She would later balance raising her own son with writing fiction, a feat that come to her as naturally as breathing air. She graduated with a BA in English/Creative Writing in 1978.
Karen received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1982. She had short stories and essays published nationally. Karen relocated to Austin, Texas, where her father was serving at St. David’s Episcopal Church. She married Gary Spence in 1984. In 1987 she gave birth to Daniel James Spence and began shaping him into a clever and talented young man. During Danny’s childhood, Karen was invited to join a group of women writers, who met to discuss and critique each other’s work. This group became very close, and was instrumental in encouraging Karen’s growth as a writer.
World of Pies (Hyperion 2000) was Karen’s first published novel. The stories that comprise World of Pies were written over a long period of time, while Karen was raising her son Danny. World of Pies was a Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection and has been published in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, Australia and Holland. World of Pies was a June 2000 BookSense pick and was listed by the School Library Journal as one of the Best Adult Books for Young Adults, as well as being published in condensed form in Good Housekeeping’s October 2000 issue.
Karen’s second novel, Fanny and Sue, was published by Hyperion in March 2003. A story about twins, she gathered much of the material she used to craft this novel from a longtime family friend from Atchison, Kansas; Violet Lehman, who is an identical twin, and also from her parents who grew up in that time of Fanny and Sue. Dutch’s stories of his childhood in St. Louis gave her a wealth of vivid details. Jeanne’s childhood battle with scarlet fever gave Karen some of the most poignant emotional vignettes in Fanny and Sue. It was the August selection for the Pulpwood Queens Book Club as well as the 2003 required summer reading pick for Ursuline Academy in St. Louis, where Karen was a featured speaker.
Karen taught creative writing at Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University New College and at the Writer’s League of Texas. She was awarded a 1999 Fiction Fellowship from the Austin Writers’ League/Texas Commission on the Arts, and was a fiction finalist for the 2000 Violet Crown Award.
Karen Stolz was able to fulfill her lifelong dream to return to a small town in Kansas. She was hired as a full-time instructor at Pittsburg State University, in Pittsburg, Kansas, to teach creative writing and literature. She began teaching at PSU in the fall of 2005. She was a mentor to many, and was greatly respected and admired by her students and colleagues. She was an active member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Karen was renowned at church and on campus for her brownies and other baked delights. Karen was completing revisions on Arvetta, a book she was co-authoring with Herman Wright. She was also working on a series of short stories.
Her son Danny Spence lives in Los Angeles, CA, and is a graduate of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, with a degree in film. Karen’s parents, Dutch and Jeanne, relocated to Lawrence in 2005. Dutch passed away in June 2012. Jeanne died in August 2019. Maggie lives in Santa Fe, NM, and Katie lives in Lawrence.
Karen Stolz died in Pittsburg, KS, on June 15, 2011, of a pulmonary embolism. Her loss is felt by many, who loved her dearly.18 Comments
Just finished reading “World of Pies,” which I ordered from the library on accident, thinking it was “Life of Pi.” I enjoyed the book thoroughly and was hoping that she published more books about Annette. I’m sorry to read that she passed away.
Hi Alice. Thanks for sharing with us. Karen was working on a connected series of short stories that are currently with her agent. It would be lovely to get those published.
Pies forever, Maggie
I got up this morning thinking about Karen. I don’t know why she just popped into my head. She does that from time to time. I haven’t kept up with her so I didn’t know she had died until this morning. I’m profoundly saddened by this knowledge. You see I didn’t really know her. I had never actually met her. I talked to her several times and wanted to meet her but life seemed to prevent our meeting. I think it was July of 2000 when I ran across an Essay contest sponsored by Book page magazine. Karen had just published “world of Pies” I was looking for a pie recipe on the internet. I came upon the Essay contest so on a whim I jotted down a favorite memory of someone that I had loved and had died. I entitled it “Tommy’s Favorite Blackberry Pie” I’m not a writer so I was shocked and amazed when I got this e-mail from Karen. She told me I had won the contest. My prize was a picnic basket. As I remember it came from Crate and Barrel. I have cherished it for 13 years. We chatted for a time On AOL instant messenger and then, as I said, life got in the way. I went into kidney failure and also had to get a pacemaker, my husband lost his job, you know, things that, at the time seemed earth shattering. The earth didn’t shatter and we survived but time got away from me and it never seemed a good time to contact her. I so wish I had stayed in touch. She had encouraged me to write. It’s taken me this long to even consider it. So this morning I looked back in my saved messages and found her e-mail address to tell her about the book spinning around in my head. I looked to see what she’s been up to, only to find she’s gone. It’s true; life is too short to waste time waiting for just the right time. So sorry to hear of her passing. Rose Attaway, Shreveport La.
KStolzrox@aol.com (KStolzrox@aol.com) 11/01/00
To: email@example.com, Jane.Comins@abc.com
Do you remember that you entered your “Tommy’s Favorite Blackberry Pie”
recipe and essay to Bookpage magazine in July? Well, Hyperion sent me the entries to judge and I have picked yours as the winner. I am Karen Stolz, and I wrote World of Pies, which was the book being promoted by the contest. It is a book about a young girl growing up in a small town in Texas. For your prize, you will get a signed copy of my book in a picnic basket. I hope you will enjoy carrying your own delicious pie to picnics in the basket. There are a few pie recipes of mine in the book as well (it is a novel, but with a few recipes sprinkled in), which I hope you’ll enjoy baking too. Your note you sent with your essay said, “I am no writer,” but Rose I beg to differ! I found your essay very poignant; it even made me tear up a bit. I loved your detailed story of your friendship with Tommy, and could feel the intensity of it in how you described him. When you read my book, you will see that my main character, Roxanne, has a cousin Tommy she is very close to, and I think that’s one reason your essay moved me so much. Your essay
shared your heart and soul, and that is why I picked it, along with your pie recipe, which sounds really wonderful. (Agree all fruit pies must be served with vanilla ice cream!).
Please write an email note to Jane Comins, at Hyperion (my publisher) and let her know your address and phone number, so she can have the book/picnic basket shipped off to you: her email is Jane.Comins@abc.com.
Sincerely, Karen Stolz
Hi Rose. Thanks so much for sharing this, especially for including the note that Karen sent to you. Her comment about vanilla ice cream is so very Karen. We miss her so much.
Oh my gosh, I am so sad to hear that Karen passed away over two years ago! I have been searching from time to time to see if I can find her, and if she had published any new books. She and I corresponded a couple of times through email, and this just breaks my heart. I loved her two books so much and I was really hoping for more. I know that she was working on others. The world has lost such a great author and a beautiful, beautiful person. I know how much she loved her son, he was her world. My sincere condolences to all. <3
I was just thinking of Karen today. I didn’t know her, except that I ADORE her book World of Pies. I consider it my all time favorite book. I wrote her and told her that one day. I was so shocked and touched that she took the time to email me back. It certainly was not a stock letter and she took time to write me. I treasure the email and have it inside my copy of World of Pies. I lost my brother a mere few weeks after she died. Hearing she died so close to my brother brought me great pain. God Bless Karen and all those who mourn her. I wanted to include her email:
Thanks so much for your sweet email about World of Pies. I am really glad that it is a book you enjoy re-reading. It’s funny how we turn to certain books for re-reading comfort/pleasure. For me, it’s Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly (a teen book written in the 1940s but still a sweet love story I enjoy reading in the summer) and a novella called Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter by J.D. Salinger (warmth, great humor). To be in the re-read category is such an honor, and I thank you.
I hope Fanny and Sue pleases you too. It’s different but the same in the sense of being a warm family story.
You can’t buy this on the stands now, but I had a short story in the November issue of Good Housekeeping you might like. It’s called “A Beau for Aunt Sheree,” and it is a new story series I’m doing, similar to how I did World of Pies. It’s set in 1963 (the Thanksgiving after Kennedy was shot). It’s a bit like Pies, but this time an only child, and she lives in Kansas City, so it’s not the small town thing. anyway, maybe you can find a copy at your library.
I hope you’ll keep looking for my work. I have a work in progress I’m co-authoring with a friend, and the story collection just referred to, and another novel I’ve started (a tornado plot-line). Hard to say which will be done first! Maybe you can check my website occasionally to see. Keep reading! Sincerely, Karen Stolz
Meaghan, thanks for sharing this with us. We miss Karen so much and it’s wonderful to know that she touched so many people with her writing.
Oh no…I’m so sorry. I did not realize that Ms. Stolz passed away. I had just posted a comment on Fanny and Sue.
Apology accepted, not to worry. We are so happy that you shared with us!
I was thinking of Karen today and looking to see if she had published anything new. I’m so sad to learn of her passing several years ago – I had no idea. I took two of her fiction writing classes at St. Edward’s University and cannot express how much I loved her as a teacher. I went into it thinking I wanted to be a non-fiction writer and that I didn’t have the imagination to become a fiction writer. I came out with the beginning of a novel and the realization that I had characters in my head that had stories to tell! She was so encouraging of my writing and so warm. I can’t imagine how much she’s been missed. Because of her, I was able to write a full novel that I hope to publish one day. And her book World of Pies definitely influenced my writing style. RIP Karen.
i am saddened that karen passed away, as i have just found “world of pies” via a neighbor’s book club that, though not an active participant, i always read the books she picks as they’re always “foodie” books with recipes…i immediately made the blueberry muffins and then she just came across the street with samples of the lemon pound cake, sweet potato pie and cherry pie from the book…what a sweet book it was ….i just ordered her second book from amazon…karen must certainly be missed by everyone who knew and loved her…rip sweet karen <3
It is 3 AM , Santa Monica, CA, just read your mother’s piece, Careen, in book, One Word, by Molly McQuade. Essentially one page, and I fell in love,immediately googled to find her, then to read Sun’s mention about her death. Stunned. Just that little piece and I knew her, she captured that sweet, dear place in me with her keen iitellligence, humor, sharp, deep insight and way of expressing the world of words. Her gone from this land left me deepy saddened,, amazing her impact with her life, all these years she still touces us
I just finished reading “World of Pies” and enjoyed reading it so much that I wanted to learn more about the author. I googled Karen Stoltz only to find out she had passed away, much too early. Like everyone before me I am deeply saddened by her passing, even though it is now years after her passing. What a wonderfully, talented author! Words cannot express how much I enjoyed reading her book and cannot wait to find a copy of her next to read.
Karen was a good friend for several years. I met her on the archeology dig in Missouri when she was the crew cook. We had lots of laughs and shared stories and literature over the years. I visited her in Iowa City when she was in residence there and also visited her in Austin. She was one-of-a-kind and I miss her still.
Hi Daniel. I’m happy that you found our page for Karen. She spoke of you often – your friendship meant a lot to her. We miss her much.
This morning I was sorting through a box of treasures I have, which includes exactly one short story, which I’d I’d cut out of a magazine and saved many years ago: “Are you being funny?” I just finally got around to looking up the author.
I am saddened to learn of Karen’s passing, but what a wonderful life. And how glad I am to learn there are books of hers to read, and through which she lives on.
Kindest regards to her family,
Hello Tina. Thanks for your note. I had forgotten about Are You Being Funny? I pulled out her draft copy and read it again – such a sweet and tender story: just like Karen. I can’t remember where it was published, but I do recall that every story that was published was a huge milestone for her.
Her books are available at many libraries.
Thank you for thinking of her – we miss her so much.
Wow. I did not expect to search for Karen and find out she has passed. I am so sorry, what terrible news. I am working on adapting her novel World of Pies into a screenplay and I had dreams of contacting her to meet up (as I also live in Austin and was super excited she was a local author) where I would make some of the recipes from the back of the book for her to have while we discussed. I always think an adaptation is best when the author is involved.
I am incredibly sad now that this will never happen, but once I am finished with the adaptation I would still love to make this meeting happen with the living members of her family. Food is such an important part of keeping someone’s memory alive and it’s one of the reasons World of Pies resonates so much for me. I lost my aunt to breast cancer in 2013 (today is actually her birthday which inspired me to work on this project) and whenever I bake I feel that she is with me and it comforts me so.
My best regards to her family – I hope to meet you one day. And thank you Karen for World of Pies. I hope I can do it proud for you on the silver screen one day. <3