John J McLaughlin, author of  Run in the Fam'ly

John J. McLaughlin was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Virginia and Washington, DC. He attended Catholic schools, including Gonzaga College High School in DC, where the Jesuits encouraged his gift for writing and his passion for social justice.
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John began his writing career while a student at the University of Virginia, where he worked as a freelance reporter for various publications, and published work in The Washington Post, Albemarle, and The Charlottesville Observer. It was there that he began to seriously pursue creative writing; he went on to earn his MFA in fiction writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, studying under renowned authors James Alan McPherson, Bharati Mukherjee, and Frank Conroy. His work has been published in National Catholic Reporter, America, and HungerMountain, and has earned a Wagenheim prize for short fiction. His debut novel, Run in the Fam’ly (University of Tennessee Press, 2007), won the 2006 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel. He is currently at work on a memoir about his experiences as a "reluctant" missionary in Latin America, and a new book of fiction. An adapted excerpt from the memoir is forthcoming in Young and Catholic (Paulist Press, 2008).

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1993, John joined the Vincentian Service Corps, a Catholic volunteer organization that places young people in year-long, full-time community outreach jobs in direct service to the poor. John went to Los Angeles and took a job at Chrysalis; it was a job and a year that would dramatically change his life. Located in the heart of Skid Row, Chrysalis works to empower economically-disadvantaged men and women—many of whom are homeless, or on the edge of being so. Over the course of that year, John met many people whose sufferings, courage, and resilience reshaped the way he understood race, class, poverty, and humanity itself. He continued working with the homeless population for several years after moving to Seattle, teaching job-seeking skills courses at a local nonprofit, and working as a jail chaplain for New Connections, a program of St. Vincent de Paul. The experiences of these years form much of the background of Run in the Fam’ly, and compelled John to attempt to reveal the deeper truths of the inner city “invisibles” in the way that only fiction can.

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Since 1997, when he first took a job there with Creighton University, John has been intimately connected to the Carribean nation of the Dominican Republic. He served as assistant director of CU’s Semestre Dominicano program during his first year there, during which time he became fluent in Spanish. During his second year, he taught English classes at Santiago’s Catholic university, and worked as a journalist for One Respe, a local NGO. John’s articles about the lives of Haitian-Dominicans and Haitian immigrants in the DR—the systematic injustices they experienced—were published electronically by One Respe and read widely in Europe and North America.

In 1999, John founded the Pentecost Project, a service-learning program in Dominican communities he has now known for ten years. It is now part of Education Across Borders, the nonprofit organization which John directs. Through this program—which is spiritually-rooted, relationship-centered, and justice-oriented—over 300 individuals from the US have had a life-changing encounter with Dominicans and Haitians in poor rural communities. The program has built over 50 houses, a rural clinic (and supplied it with medicine), a church, sanitation facilities, a park site, and many green spaces in Dominican communities living in extreme poverty. Education Across Borders also supports scholarships for talented Dominican students from these communities; at present, more than a dozen students are enrolled in pre-professional university studies, well on their way to breaking the cycle of poverty and dependency in which so many Dominican youths are trapped. EAB, in its mission to “transform communities through relationship,” sponsors Dominican-Haitian interchanges and dialog, to work toward healing wounds of racism and nationalism, both in the DR and the US.

John has completed spiritual formation programs at Seattle University, and at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. He lives with his wife and two children in Seattle, where he is a member of St. Therese Parish; he serves on its Social Justice Commission, and volunteers in its winter overnight shelter.

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