Jack Gantos (born July 2, 1951) (real name: John Bryan Gantos, Jr.) is an American author of children's books renowned for his portrayal of fictional Joey Pigza, a boy with ADHD. Gantos has won a number of awards, including the Newbery Honor, the Printz Honor, and the Sibert Honor from the American Library Association, and he has been a finalist for the National Book Award. His newest book, The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (2006), deals with twins, eugenics, taxidermy (in particular, human taxidermy), and implicit incest.
Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh to construction superintendent John Gantos and banker Elizabeth (Weaver) Gantos. The seeds for Jack Gantos' writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister's diary and decided he could write better than she could. Born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and raised in South Florida and the Caribbean, Mr. Gantos began collecting anecdotes in grade school and later gathered them into stories. Jack Gantos is a famous writer who wrote children books and was sent to prison.
Hole in My life is an autobiography of Jack Gantos' life and life in jail. The book is about the time Gantos sailed a boat that was full of hashish from St. Croix to New York City, and the time he spent in prison after being busted.
Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and his family moved around the United States until he was a junior in high school. When Jack was a junior in high school, his family moved from their home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, he couldn't attend school (he didn't know Spanish) so his family decided to put him to work. He worked with an electrical contractor in the construction project his father had in a hotel. He had his own room where he stayed in the hotel and stayed there, with good pay, for six months until finally he decided it wasn't for him. He wanted to go to school to become a writer, and he thought the only way accomplish this was to move back to Florida. This is exactly what he did. He moved back to Florida and lived with friends of the family: the Bacon family. The Bacons didn't have much money but they still took care of Jack. By this time, however, Jack had a severe drinking problem that was quite uncontrollable. He would often come back to the house drunk and very sick. One night, after drinking much to much, he came home, spit up in every room in the house, and passed out. The next morning the Bacons kicked him out of their house in response to his vulgar behavior for the 6 or 7 weeks he stayed with them. He moved in to an old motel, The King's Court. He went to school for the whole school year and stayed in the King's Court the entire year. However, by the time the school year ended, his family had just moved to an island in the Virgin Islands. His father planned to start his own construction business there. Jack eventually came to St. Croix to help his family as well as to try and find his writing voice. However, shortly after he arrived, he discovered that drugs were everywhere, and began smoking a lot of dope. He also found that a gang of black people were trying to force all of the white people off the island. White people's houses were being raided and people were being scared away. This is when his construction skills came into play as his family's source of money was making crates. After a mysterious character, Rik, puts an order in for a crate with a false bottom. He obliged, as he and his family needed the money, but he notices him at a bar. When he consulted his father, who had a natural talent for picking out criminals, he was told that Rik was a drug dealer. Shortly there after, Rik comes, but did not have any screws to attach the false bottom. Jack voluntejjyukers to put the screws in for him and so Rik put in containers of hash into the bottom, then Jack screws the bottom on. For helping Rik, Jack was repaid in hashish, which is more commonly known as hash, Rik offered another way to make money to Jack. Rik offered Jack a job sailing a boat to New York City. He figured that the only way that he could be successful was to go to college. All Jack wanted was a school that had a good writing program, and he estimated that he would need around $10,000 and Rik's job would pay that much. He decided to accept the offer and he was stuck on sailboat called the Beaver for several weeks with an experienced sailor, Hamilton. Hamilton was in the British Navy, and he was considered the captain of the Beaver. Hamilton could not work the sails alone, which is why Jack was recruited. Jack was so excited to get this money so he could try to go to college but was scared to sail the boat up the coast of the United States to New York. Jack always wanted to be a writer but never tried to really write. He finally discovered how much writing could do for him after he found out he was in danger and was afraid. He wrote stories about what happened in jail. Writing was what ultimately turned his life around and got him out of jail in one and a half years instead of six.
Not long after Jack and Hamilton left St. Croix they found out they did not get along, and at one point Hamilton attempted to shoot Jack. Hamilton knew the location of 2,000 pounds of hash was and so that was their destination. From there they were to sail to New York where they would meet up with Rik again. They were almost caught on the way as they sailed into restricted water. A guard told them to leave the area without searching their boat, (but it is revealed later in the book that the guard did know what was on board.) Soon after this close call, they call Rik from a payphone and they start selling the hash in town. After the first deal they have enough money to stay in a nice hotel, The Chelsea. Once most of the hash had been sold, and Jack was paid things took a turn for the worse as the other two went to the hotel lobby. Just then, in Jack's own words, "The shit hit the fan" and the F.B.I. burst in on him. He managed to escape and hide out in the very same motel he was living during high school, as he had befriended the owner.
During this time he called his family, who was still on St. Croix, who told them that the FBI was investigating them and they were on to him. His father had a friend whose relative was a lawyer and so Jack employed him to defend him if things got ugly. The lawyer was telling him that there was a leak in their operation and that it had been Rik that ratted them out to the police.(He had been caught with drugs in the crate.) The lawyer convinced Jack that he would ultimately be in custody and that he should just turn himself in as he may not have to do time. They tried to argue that Jack had no involvement other than sailing the boat, but the people he had sold to were in custody already and were ready to testify against him. After the brief court case Jack was faced with the sentence of 60 days to 6 years. The first night he chose a bed against the wall, but a hand woke him up and the disturbing things said kept Jack in constant fear the whole time he was there, because of the unusual level of violence in his environment that he wasn't prepared for, and he's never forgotten it. He was constantly surrounded by outlaws, and he wasn't good at spotting the ones that were planning on causing trouble. Also, he witnessed some violent acts while he was in jail, for example "Once, in the cafeteria line, standing directly next to a guard, I watched a skinny black kid stab some other "blood" with a dinner fork. He drove it into the guy's collarbone so deeps the doctor had to remove it with a pair of surgical pliers." He learns the day after his first day spent in jail, that one of the people he had sold to was in the same room and had been raped over night. This terrified Jack even more, but luckily the jail doctors noticed that he had a case of lice. Which resulted in a quarantine room all to himself. During this time he was showing good behavior and a guard gave him paper, pencil, and a book that had been left by another inmate. This is when he started writing down all the stories about what it was like being in the jail. After his lice had died off, he was informed that he would have to go back to "population" and so he asked if there were any jobs that were open. It just happened that there was an opening as an X-Ray technician, which he happily took in order to stay inside his same room. He survived this way until the board tried to get information regarding the counterfit money that was used to buy the 2,000 pounds of hashish. Before seeing the parole board he practiced his physical and facial gestures in the mirror. He said, " Four days ahead of time I practiced looking sorry, levelheaded, bright-eyed, and determined to succeed." He thought practicing this would help him with his argument for his release from prison. He wanted to appear as though he had changed and that he really wanted to become successful. When Jack did not know the answer they said that he was being uncooperative they said that there will be another meeting in two years. This was grim news for Jack, but he was determined to get out.
Soon a new council was added to the jail and assigned to Jack who convinced that he could get out of jail if he had a number of things: a place to stay, a college that will accept him, and a job. He applied for to a college which, he was accepted to and his dad had a friend in New York that could provide him a home and job selling Christmas trees. After this all occurred he was released from jail, spending only a year and a half inside. Then the book is wrapped up as Jack finds irony in how before jail he was pushing a cart full of drugs illegally, and now he is pushing a cart with a Christmas tree legally. He had also buried a stash of hash in Central Park, which he could easily sell for $5000 dollars, but doesn't in fear that history may repeat itself, and all of this was found in his biography that was written several years ago: Hole In My Life.
He received his BFA and his MA both from Emerson College. While in college, Jack began working on picture books with an illustrator friend. In 1976, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph. Mr. Gantos continued writing children's books and began teaching courses in children's book writing. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College in Boston, and is now teaching in the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers.
Best Books for Young Readers citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1976—93, for the "Rotten Ralph" series
Children's Book Showcase Award, 1977, for Rotten Ralph
Emerson Alumni Award, Emerson College, 1979, for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing
Massachusetts Council for the Arts Awards finalist, 1983, 1988
Gold Key Honors Society Award,1985, for Creative Excellence
National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1987
Quarterly West Novella Award, 1989, for X-Rays
Children's Choice citation, International Reading Association, 1990, for Rotten Ralph's Show and Tell
Batavia Educational Foundation grant, 1991
West Springfield Arts Council (WESPAC) grant, 1991
Parents' Choice citation, 1994, for Not So Rotten Ralph
New York Public Library Books for the Teenage, 1997, for Jack's Black Book
Silver Award, 1999, for Jack on the Tracks
Great Stone Face Award, Children's Librarians of New Hampshire, National Book Award finalist for Young People's Literature, ALANNA Notable Children's Book, NCSS and CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction, and New York Public Library "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing," all 1999, Iowa Teen Award, Iowa Educational Media Association, Flicker Tale Children's Book Award nomination, North Dakota Library Association, and Sasquatch Award nomination, all 2000, all for Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
Newbery Honor, ALANNA, 2001, for Joey Pigza Loses Control
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Creative Writing, m fiction
Printz Honors and Sibert Honors, both for Hole in My Life, both c. 2003