Willis, Sarah

Born: 1954

Ohio connection: Birth

Cleveland Heights

Sarah Willis, daughter of actor/director Kirk Willis, was born in 1954 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Her father died when she was twelve, and she began writing poetry partly as a way of dealing with his death. She dropped out of high school at age sixteen, and later attended the Friends Free School, an alternative school started by the Quakers. In 1971, she began working for the Cleveland Free Clinic, where she was employed for ten years in a variety of positions. During that time, she attended Cuyahoga Community College, Otterbein College, and Case Western Reserve University, from which she received a B.F.A. degree in theater arts in 1978. However, she chose not to pursue an acting career, and turned to photography, earning a certificate in photography from Cooper School of Art. At the age of thirty-four, she finally discovered that writing was her first love, and she began taking graduate classes in creative writing at Cleveland State University. She was married, had two children, Moira and Matt, and was later divorced before focusing fully on a writing career. She began with short stories that have been published in numerous periodicals, including Book MagazineConfrontationCrescent ReviewRockford ReviewWhiskey Island Review, and the Missouri Review. Willis’ first novel, Some Things That Stay, was published in 2000, and won the Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature and the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction. The book, a coming-of-age-story of a young girl, was made into a film of the same title in 2004. Other novels are The Rehearsal (2001), A Good Distance (2004), and The Sound of Us (2005). She has also taught creative writing at writers’ workshops and colleges, does readings, and speaks to groups on the subject of writing. Sarah Willis continues to live and work in Cleveland Heights.

Pushcart Prize nomination for story in Crescent Review; Stephen Crane Award for first fiction, Book of the Month Club, and Cleveland Arts Prize, both 2000, both for Some Things That Stay; Crain’s Cleveland Business Women of Note Award, 2001.