Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country.
Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time. When she was in fourth grade, she went to boarding school in Addis Ababa. Her family left Ethiopia in the late 1970s, but a decade later, first her brother and his family and then her older sister and her family went back to teach in a girls' school in Addis Ababa. By the time Jane came back to the United States for college, she felt there was no way to talk about her childhood home to people here. It took nearly twenty years to finally find a way - through her children's books. Now she often speaks in schools and at conferences, sharing memories from her own childhood and bringing in things for the children to touch and taste and see and smell and hear from Ethiopia. "It's been a healing and inspiring experience," she says, "to re-connect with my childhood and also be able to help people know just a little of the beautiful country where I grew up." She is also a co-founder and member of the board of Ethiopia Reads that works to bring books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia.
E. B. Lewis illustrated Jane's first Ethiopian story, Fire on the Mountain. He used photographs that Jane sent him and photographs which he took of Ethiopian families in his home city of Philadelphia to help him create the illustrations in the book. When Jane's brother came back from teaching in Ethiopia and told her about the street boys who taught him to raise pigions, she and her brother, Christopher, wrote Only a Pigeon- a book that was published in spring 1997. Earl (E.B.) Lewis and Chris Kurtz traveled to Ethiopia in 1995 so Earl could do the art research for the story. Floyd Cooper illustrated the second story, Pulling the Lion's Tail, using photographs and his own imagination to make the story of Almaz come to life. Since the publications of her first books Jane has published a book each year. She has written several more picture books, a novel, and resources for educators. Part of her time is spent visiting in schools. She worked in classrooms with elementary and high school students for over ten years and then for another ten years at the University of North Dakota where most of her students, especially the ones on the UND football team, were bigger than she was...so she is very comfortable working in classrooms. After living in North Dakota and Kansas, Jane and her husband, Leonard Goering, have moved back to Portland, Oregon where both of them enjoy visits from their family. Together Jane and Leonard have traveled to Ethiopia, the site of many Ethiopia Reads literacy projects, and to other international locations. Jane frequently travels world-wide and across the United States visiting schools and touching base with her sisters. Her brother and sometimes co-author, Chris Kurtz, and her mother live in the Portland vicinity.
Jane often writes about her travels and her family's literacy experiences on her blog - the Power of One Writer.