Author Heidi Durrow: Chasing Her Dreams

Tuesday, 02 November 2010 09:56 Written by  Frances Moffett

The book, winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice, has received much acclaim for it's unique twist on the classic “coming of age” story, depicting the life of a young biracial girl who suffered a tragedy and then faced her own battle of self-identification.


The Portland, Ore., native, who is biracial, born of an African American father and Danish mother like her main character Rachel, talked to GlossMagazineOnline about how sticking to her dream actually made it come true.

GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): You’ve had a pretty interesting career path; first off, you graduated from Stanford University, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School. Then you went on to become a journalist, an attorney and a Life Skills trainer for the NBA and NFL. How did all those transitions come about?

Heidi Durrow: Luckily. Now it all sounds like an interesting story, but at the time I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do. I started off in journalism and then as a lawyer because I wanted to write. I always wanted to write, and I knew that I could write in those professions. But journalism didn’t last very long. I did a couple of good internships, but then I turned to the lawyering pretty quickly when I realized, ‘Hey, I like law school, and I can get a pretty good paying job.’ I did that for a couple years in New York as a corporate litigator, but what I really wanted to do was write. The consulting job with the NBA and NFL just kind of fell into my lap, and it was perfect because it was flexible. It allowed me to dedicate a couple days a week to my writing.

GMO: When did you decide that you were going to get serious about a career in novel writing?

HD: I thought I made the decision when I left my job. I started working on the book in 1998. I was actually just a really good reader, and I was a good writer, but I’d never written anything fiction that had been published in a journal or anything like that. I just had an idea, and I knew I could do it. I gave myself three months to write a whole manuscript, mostly because I was turning 30 the next year, and I figured I should finish the book before I turned 30! I just kind of struggled forever trying to figure out how to write the story I wanted to write, what was the structure of it, what was the story, what was it going to sound like.

Durrow said that she’d had writer’s block for a long time and wasn’t making much progress on the manuscript—until she got honest with herself.  “I said, ‘You’re going to turn 35 with or without a book, and you’re going to turn 40 with or without a book; wouldn’t you rather do it with a book?’”

After sending out her manuscript to contests and publishers across the board (and receiving over four dozen rejections), Durrow’s hard work paid off when her book received the Bellwether Prize, which came with a cash reward and a book contract. h2

GMO: The structure of the book is really different. The tempo is slow in some portions, and then it speeds up. At some points, the characters are really thoughtful—other times, there’s a lot of action happening. How did you organize it that way?

HD: It’s been a really organic process. I’m not the kind of writer who plots everything out. I didn’t know where this book was going to end when I started it. I just had an idea of some characters and some things that they may or may not experience in some period of time. Ultimately, it came down to what sounded right.

Durrow has been touring with her book for the past year now, hitting cities across the country, doing readings and book signings. In addition to her busy schedule publicizing her novel, she and friend Fanshen Cox produce the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival, an annual free public event that celebrates storytelling of the mixed racial and cultural experience. The two also host a podcast called, “Mixed Chicks Chat,” a live weekly podcast about being racially and culturally mixed that the friends started in 2007. The podcast was voted Best Podcast by the Black Weblog Awards in 2008.

GMO: How did “Mixed Chicks Chat” come about?

HD: My friend Fanshen Cox and I would always get together whenever we could, and we’d end up talking about being in a mixed family or being mixed. Whenever we got together, we’d talk for a long time about it, and we always felt better. Then we wouldn’t see each other for a long time, so we said, let’s start a podcast, that way we’d have to talk about it. We set it up the next day, and we’ve been doing it every week on Tuesdays. At first, it was just our moms listening, and they loved it. It was just like a phone conversation; and then people started hearing about it and started calling in [asking us to publicize their events] and then we got scholars to come on the show.

GMO: You’ve had a long journey to get where you are now. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

HD: I would say if you can think about the project that you’re working on—the book that you want to write—instead of thinking about it as just a book, really embrace the idea that it’s a vision that you want to share with the world. That’s going to sustain you more as an artist than thinking that it’s just a book. For me, I think the reason I just would not listen to people saying ‘no’ to me is that I really believed I had an important story and an important vision to share that hadn’t been told in this way before, and I think each of us has that in us.

Learn more about Heidi Durrow on her website at Check out the Glossy book review of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.


Frances Moffett

Frances Moffett

GMO Editor-At-Large Frances Moffett is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. She has worked with GMO since its inception. With a love for journalism and all things writing, she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. Frances is also an editor at the country’s largest association management company and has written for a variety of publications, including Jet magazine, The Chicago Defender and The Chicago Reporter.

Frances can be contacted at

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