Author spreads her wings

Aug. 25, 2010

Ann Angel, then Ann Bonness, was just about to become a freshman at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School when blues rocker Janis Joplin took a little piece of her heart and never gave it back. So Angel's latest book, "Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing" is not just a biography of the mighty singer, but evidence that music can chart the course of a writer's life.

Growing up as one of nine kids in a "very big, very loud Irish Catholic family" in Elm Grove during the 1960s, Angel was listening to playlists dominated by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors when Joplin broke through.

"You hear this really powerful woman, and she stands there alone and she doesn't mind being alone," Angel said. "I've always believed that wanting to be like her made me feel like it was OK not to go along with the crowd. She gave me the power to do that, and I'm really glad she did."

Angel said Joplin's death from an overdose affected her deeply, too, and she promised herself never to do drugs. She channeled her creative energy into freelance journalism and art before finding her groove writing books for young adults, including a biography Amy Tan, author of "The Joy Luck Club" and other books. It was released earlier this year.

She married Jeff Angel, her high school sweetheart, and the couple, who live in Brookfield, adopted four children: Amanda, Nick, Joe and Stevi, now all grown. Angel has broadened her portfolio to include writing fiction and is working on several projects, including a novel. Much of her fiction, she said, shares a theme.

"I tend to focus on good girls who get turned around in their lives and have to figure it out," she said. "The girl always somehow finds her own power."

Angel also teaches writing for the Mount Mary College Master of Arts in English program.

"I love my students and love just making the connections that only writers can make. There's so much intensity and honesty and just connection my classes, and I think that is coming from what the writers are writing about," she said.

With daughter Amanda, she is co-editing a nonfiction book about adoption, with essays by birth mothers, adoptive mothers and adopted children.

Angel said writing empowers her to "see the world in a much broader way than I would have if I would have stayed that Irish-Catholic kid growing up in the world. … It's kind of like my prayer, because you always get resolution at the end."


Name: Ann Angel

Age: 57

Noted for: Author, teacher in the Mount Mary College Master of Arts in English program, mom

On the web:

Meet the author: Ann Angel will read from "Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing" and sign books at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at The Little Read Book, 7603 W. State St., Wauwatosa.


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