I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1968. As a little kid, I lived in a seventies suburban development in the generally rural town of Stow, Massachusetts. It was a fun childhood, with lots of forests around our neighborhood. My little sister and I used to walk on paths through the woods down to Lake Boon, where we’d spend the summer swimming. Despite that, I am still somehow a terrible swimmer.
For a couple of years when I was very little, my family went to live in Italy. My father was working on a radar system at a U.S. army base. We rented a little apartment in the corner of a crumbling old monastery. The sights I saw in those years changed me completely, I think. I got used to Roman ruins and old statues of saints and castles on hill-tops. That was the landscape that made sense to me. When I came back to Kindergarten in the United States, my teacher thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t build anything with blocks. I just put the blocks in big, jumbled piles. She asked me what I was doing. I patiently explained that I was building ruins.
And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
As a teen-ager, I wanted to be a writer, and spent hours plugging away at novels, stories, ball-point comics, and the code for computer adventure games. One of these early novels was published fifteen years later in a much-revised and improved form: The Game of Sunken Places.
When I was ready to graduate from high school in America, I applied for a scholarship to go to a year of boarding school in England. I had a great time over there. I studied Anglo-Saxon history and the English poets and I deeply enjoyed the whole ridiculously stark feel of the place. When, for example, our dinner was a single hard-boiled egg and a pile of grated cheese (once a week!), I couldn’t stop laughing. I felt like I was walking on air. Everything was just as it was supposed to be – just like a novel by Charles Dickens. If that sounds strange, remember that I was probably light-headed from malnutrition.
After a little wobbling around – I started as a college freshman in the U.S., dropped out, and worked for a while at a department store – I ended up a couple years later at Cambridge University in England, where I studied English literature. (I’ve talked about this in an essay called “A Brief Guide to the Ghosts of Great Britain,” published in the collection Open Your Eyes.) After college, I worked as an intern at the Boston Review, an editorial assistant at Candlewick Press (who still publish me), and as a classical music reviewer for The Improper Bostonian. My first published book, Thirsty, was written in the nights and weekends while I held down these other jobs. When I was twenty-six, I went back to school, getting an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in upstate New York. While I was there, I began to publish stories for adults in literary journals.
A couple of years after I graduated with my MFA, I went to teach at the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College, a community that has played an important role in my writing life for the last ten years.
At this point, I’ve published stories for adults, picture books for children, adventure novels for young readers, and several books for older readers (both teens and adults). My satirical book Feed was a Finalist for the National Book Award and was the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize. The first volume of my Octavian Nothing saga won the National Book Award and the Boston Globe / Horn Book Prize. Both the first and second volumes of that two-part series were Printz Honor Books. I’ve published stories for adults in literary journals like The Northwest Review, The Colorado Review, and Conjunctions.
What do I do with my time when I’m not writing? I like traveling to exotic places and seeing the ruins of ancient cities. I hike a lot in New Hampshire and Vermont, and, in the winter, I cross-country ski. I like music, especially music written before 1750, and, on the other hand, very modern music. I’m a big fan of the harpsichord. I also like fried food. My idea of heaven would be a harpsichord recital where they serve funnel cakes.
I’m still waiting on that one.
I love writing for younger readers. I love their passion. I love their commitment to stories. I love the way their heads are exploding with all the things they want to say and do.
Pianist and conductor Stephen Drury has performed throughout the world with a repertoire that stretches from Bach to Liszt to the music of today. He has appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Barbican Centre and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Cité de la Musique in Paris, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and from Arkansas to Seoul. A champion of contemporary music, he has taken the sound of dissonance into remote corners of Pakistan, Greenland, and Montana.
In 1985, Stephen Drury was chosen by Affiliate Artists for its Xerox Pianists Program, and performed in residencies with symphony orchestras in San Diego, Cedar Rapids, San Angelo, Spokane, and Stamford. He has since performed or recorded with the American Composers Orchestra, the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Boston Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Springfield (Massachusetts) and Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestras, and the Romanian National Symphony. Drury was a prize-winner in the Carnegie Hall/Rockefeller Foundation Competitions in American Music, and was selected by the United States Information Agency for its Artistic Ambassador Program and a 1986 European recital tour. A second tour in the fall of 1988 took him to Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Japan. He gave the first piano recitals ever in Julianehaab, Greenland, and Quetta, Pakistan. In 1989 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Drury a Solo Recitalist Fellowship which funded residencies and recitals of American music for two years. The same year he was named “Musician of the Year” by the The Boston Globe.
Stephen Drury's performances of music written in the last hundred years, ranging from the piano sonatas of Charles Ives to works by György Ligeti, Frederic Rzewski and John Cage have received the highest critical acclaim. Drury has worked closely with many of the leading composers of our time, including Cage, Ligeti, Rzewski, Steve Reich, Olivier Messiaen, John Zorn, Luciano Berio, Helmut Lachenmann, Christian Wolff, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Finnissy, Lee Hyla, and John Luther Adams. Drury has appeared at the MusikTriennale Koln in Germany, the Subtropics Festival in Miami, and the North American New Music Festival in Buffalo as well as at Roulette, the Knitting Factory, Tonic, and The Stone in New York. At Spoleto USA, the Angelica Festival in Bologna, and Oberlin Conservatory he performed as both conductor and pianist. He has conducted the Britten Sinfonia in England, the Santa Cruz New Music Works Ensemble, and the Harvard Group for New Music. In 1988–89 he organized a year-long festival of the music of John Cage which led to a request from the composer to perform the solo piano part in Cage's 1O1, premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in April 1989. In 2009, Drury performed the solo piano part in the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives, again with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Alan Gilbert. In 1999, Drury was invited by choreographer Merce Cunningham to perform onstage with Cunningham and Mikhail Barishnikov as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Drury has also appeared in New York at Alice Tully Hall as part of the Great Day in New York Festival and on the Bargemusic series, in Boston with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and as soloist with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and with the Seattle Chamber Players in Seattle and Moscow at the International Music Festival “Images of Contemporary American Music.” In 2003, he performed and taught at the Mannes College of Music’s Beethoven Institute; in 2005, he returned to Mannes to play and teach at the Institute and Festival for Contemporary Performance. That summer he was also the piano faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Institute. In 2006, Drury’s performance of Frederic Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!” at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival was a sensation; he was invited back in 2008 to premiere Rzewski’s Natural Things with the Opus 21 Ensemble at the Gilmore Festival in Michigan and Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in New York as part of the composer’s 70th birthday. That same summer Drury appeared at Bard College’s SUMMERSCAPE Festival, and at the Cité de la Musique in Paris for a week-long celebration of the music of John Zorn. In 2007, he was invited to León, Mexico to perform music by Rzewski, Zorn and Cage at the International Festival of Contemporary Art.
Drury has commissioned new works for solo piano from John Cage, John Zorn, John Luther Adams, Terry Riley, and Chinary Ung with funding provided by Meet The Composer. He has performed with Zorn in Paris, Vienna, London, Brussels, and New York, and conducted Zorn's music in Bologna, Boston, Chicago, and in the UK and Costa Rica. In March 1995, he gave the first performance of Zorn's concerto for piano and orchestra Aporias with Dennis Russell Davies and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Later that same season he gave the premiere of Basic Training for solo piano, written for him by Lee Hyla. Drury has recorded the music of John Cage, Elliott Carter, Charles Ives, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Colin McPhee, John Zorn, John Luther Adams and Frederic Rzewski, as well as works of Liszt and Beethoven, for Mode, New Albion, Catalyst, Tzadik, Avant, MusicMasters, Cold Blue, New World and Neuma.
Stephen Drury has given masterclasses at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Mannes Beethoven Institute, and Oberlin Conservatory, and in Japan, Romania, Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, and throughout the United States, and served on juries for the Concert Artist Guild, Gaudeamus, and Orléans Concours International de Piano XXème Siècle Competitions. Drury is artistic director and conductor of the Callithumpian Consort, and he created and directs the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at New England Conservatory. Drury earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard College, and the New England Conservatory's select Artist Diploma. His teachers have included Claudio Arrau, Patricia Zander, William Masselos, Margaret Ott, and Theodore Lettvin, and conducting with Donald Thulean. He teaches at New England Conservatory, where he has directed festivals of the music of John Cage, Steve Reich, and (in 2010) Christian Wolff.