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, and later 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.