He grew up in Bangor, Maine. He graduated from Colby College in 1968 and earned a Masters Of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1986 where he was chosen for their prestigious Teaching-Writing Fellowship. He was awarded a James Michener Fellowship for his first novel.
He taught at Colgate University, Colby College, The University of Maine, and Columbia College.In 1997 He became a Canadian citizen and moved his family to the seaside village of St. Andrews, New Brunswick where he created a Writing Retreat for new MFA grads. TheWritingRetreat.com. In 1984 he married Colleen McQuinn of Maine. They eloped in Winchester England where she was teaching at the time, then rode the Night Ryder train from London to Scotland to begin their honeymoon. From 1985, until 1990 they had four children, three daughters...Erin, Nell, Cara...and a son, Jack. In 1987 they lived in County Wicklow, Ireland with two babies while Don wrote his second novel, From The Point. In 2008 Don returned to Scotland to work as a caddie.
Don J. Snyder's formal training as a writer took place at the Iowa Writer's Workshop where he won the prestigious teaching Writing Fellowship and earned an M.F.A.. After receiving a James A. Michener Fellowship for his first novel, he went on to publish five novels and three critically acclaimed nonfiction books with Alfred A. Knopf, Little Brown, Simon & Schuster and Doubleday.His work has been translated in eleven languages and his books which have sold across the world, concern themselves with loss, redemption and the accommodations we make to bridge the distance between how we dream our lives will turn out and how they actually do. His earliest desire as a writer was to write books that would deprive the world of some of its indifference and its loneliness. He credits his success as a novelist to the instruction he received from the writer, Richard Yates.
He spent from 1978 until 1985 writing A Soldier's Disgrace, a nonfiction book intended to clear the name of a U.S. Army officer falsely accused of being a traitor while he was held prisoner by the Chinese during the Korean War. When the book was published in 1987, C. Michael Curtis, the renowned Senior Editor of The Atlantic Monthly wrote: "This book deserves a Pulitzer Prize." In August 1998, He flew to Omagh, Northern Ireland sixteen hours after the bombing there. He attended thirteen funerals and immediately began writing his novel, Night Crossing for Knopf, which took him back to Northern Ireland the following summer where he finished the novel after spending time at the site of every IRA bombing in the history of the Troubles. A 1996 cover story for Harper's Magazine led to his memoir, The Cliff Walk, which was published by LIttle Brown the following year.
His first experience with Hollywood came in 1986 when the film rights to his nonfiction book, A Soldier's Disgrace, were purchased by Paramount Pictures. Martin Brest was signed on to direct, (He would later direct "Scent Of A Woman") the Australian screenwriter, David Williamson, ("The Year Of Living Dangerously") was hired to write the script. The movie was never made. In 1997 Kathleen Kennedy who had just won an Academy Award for "Schindler's List" bought the rilm rights to Snyder's book, The Cliff Walk, and signed Curtis Hanson to Direct. Hanson had just won the Academy Award for "LA Confidential," but the project was shelved a year later. In 2001 when the Hallmark Hall Of Fame bought film rights to his novel, Fallen Angel, Snyder was hired to write the script. That film which starred Gary Sinise and Joley Richardson, and was the highest rated TV movie in 2003, airs every year on The Hallmark Channel.
In 1999 when Oprah Winfrey decided to produce a series of book videos to try to do for books in America what videos had done for music, the first book she chose for this project was Snyder's, Of Time & Memory, a critically acclaimed memoir, published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf, which told the true story of Peggy Schwartz, a nineteen year old girl who died one August morning in 1950 in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, nine months after her wedding to a young soldier, leaving him behind with their twin baby boys who were just sixteen days old.
Mark Pellington, the brilliant young Hollywood director who had made the classic music videos for Bruce Springsteen and the Irish band, U2, was hired to direct and he took a film crew to Hatfield, to document the sad beauty of Peggy's love story and the mystery that shrouded her death. Her marriage bed and all her belongings, including the Singer sewing machine she had used to make her wedding dress and baby clothes, were given away soon after she died. And when her husband in his desolation began sleeping every night on her grave, he had to be placed under a physician's care.
The people of Hatfield who had watched Peggy grow up spent the next fifty years wondering why she had died, and why her twin sons were never told about their mother. Though the boys grew up with their father and his new wife just a few blocks from the cemetery where Peggy was buried, the family minister, a Lutheran pastor, had instructed their father never to take them there.
One of those sons went on to become a Lutheran minister himself. The other became a writer.
Don J. Snyder was forty-seven years old when he stood at Peggy's grave for the first time. He had been writing his way there for most of his life, though he didn't know this. He also didn't know how close he was to uncovering the secret that his nineteen year old mother had taken to her grave almost half a century before.
It was a secret she had shared only with her doctor, and when Don found the man, he swore that Peggy had never been his patient. Then just before his death, he revealed the truth which he had kept hidden for so long.
Dr. Clinton Toewe, was a brilliant young obstetrician just a few years out of medical school when he first met Peggy. He diagnosed her pregnancy in the fifth week, and soon after discovered that the fetus was poisoning her kidneys. He told her that she would die unless he performed an abortion. He placed before her the choice of saving herself or the baby she was carrying.
She told him that she wanted to save her baby.
But in the sixth month of her pregnancy when she was gravely ill, she went to him to save her life. As he prepared to perform a late term abortion, he examined Peggy with his stethoscope and heard two hearts beating, not one, and when he told her that she was carrying twins, she would not let him take her babies. Here the choice became almost impossible for her because she knew that by chosing to give up her life for her babies, she was, in essence, choosing them over the young man who loved her. She was his first and last love, and he was hers. They loved each other depthlessly, and her death would destroy him, she knew this. And because she was afraid he would not be able to be a good father to her babies if he knew they had caused her death, she made the doctor promise to keep all of this secret from him. And so he kept his silence. He delivered the babies just before four o'clock in the morning on August 11, his first set of twins. Sixteen days later Peggy died.
It took Snyder two years to write this story in his book, and from 2003-2009 to finish his screenplay adaptation titled,"American Love Story." In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press Snyder spoke about his screenplay, saying he believed the movie would one day take its place among the greatest love stories ever brought to film. " In addition to being a breathtakingly beautiful story of first love that embraces the enduring themes of redemption and forgiveness, it is also a detective story which follows the son out of the darkness of his own life as he discovers the love story that carried him into the world."
Snyder's father barely made it through the years after Peggy died, and because he was far too broken to be a real father, Snyder drifted away from him for many years. All his life he believed it was his father who had to ask to be forgiven for never being present in his life; but finally he knew that he and his brother had to be forgiven for taking from their father the girl he loved.
According to Snyder:
All the great films across the years have compelled us to see our lives in a new way and so they have struck an urgency in our culture. Because Peggy at age nineteen experienced all the emotions on both sides of what has become a debate over abortion in America, and because her final decision placed her on the common ground that both sides often seem blind to, namely Antiabortion, Prochoice, this film has the chance to draw the opposing sides together by making us see abortion as we never have before, just as the film "Kramer Vs. Kramer" once made us see divorce in a new way.
In addition to this script, Snyder has been working for years on a Frank Capra style Christmas movie called The Winter Travelers.
His work appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and Harper's Magazine.