Ordinary People


Introduction and Background

Judith Ann Guest was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 29, 1936. She went to the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor of arts in education in 1958. She married and had three sons with her husband, Larry. Guest taught for a living while working on developing her writing. After winning 60th place out of 100 in a writing contest, Guest devoted herself to writing her novel. She quit teaching and committed to the goal of finishing her novel.

Ordinary People was Guest’s first novel, and it took an interesting route to getting published. She sent the unsolicited manuscript to multiple publishers, receiving rejections from the first two. Guest then sent an unsolicited manuscript to Viking Penguin. Although the company policy generally was to ignore unsolicited manuscripts, a secretary read the book and passed it along to her superiors. Eventually, Viking published the book. It was a wise decision, as Ordinary People garnered significant critical acclaim, including winning the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize from the University of Rochester. In 1980, the Robert Redford movie Ordinary People, which was based on the novel, won the Best Picture Oscar.

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