Lorene Cary works to find meaning and to share it: by observing, researching, reporting, and creating stories, and through organizing, teaching, civic engagement, spiritual practice, and family life. The hardest part is figuring out how, at each stage in life, to do both - the writing and the living (mostly in Philadelphia) - with the attention that love demands. Cary’s best-selling boarding-school memoir, Black Ice, was published in 1991. Arthur Rampersad called it “probably the most beautifully written and most moving autobiographical narrative since Maya Angelou’s celebrated I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Cary wrote two novels in the 1990s while raising two daughters with her husband, Robert C. Smith. She also began teaching writing at UPenn, where she has received two Provost’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching.
In 1998, Cary founded Art Sanctuary to create programs of excellent African-American arts and letters in urban Philadelphia. It opened with The Roots and grew to involve 15,000 participants a year. In 2012, Cary created a partnership with Opera Philadelphia that has produced We Shall Not Be Moved, by Daniel Bernard Romaine, scheduled for premiere this season. In 2003, The Price of a Child, Cary's first novel, was chosen as the inaugural One Book One Philadelphia. Conversations with teachers about the fugitive at the center of the novel led Cary to write a non-fiction middle-school book, Free! Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad. Her last novel, If Sons, Then Heirs (2011), recounts a searing Jim-Crow era love story that Essence magazine called "a triumph." Her scripts for LED-screen presentations for The President's House on Independence Mall commemorate the lives of enslaved Africans in the Washington household for up to five million visitors each year. Cary served as Philadelphia School Reform Commissioner from October 2011 to January 2013 and later created SafeKidsStories.com, a movement for “stealth culture change,” edited by former New York Book Review editor Rebecca Pepper Sinkler. Current works in progress include a play about Harriet Tubman, commissioned by Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre, and a book under contract to Norton Books about end-of-life care for Cary’s grandmother. Cary has received The Philadelphia Award, her city’s highest honor. She lectures nationwide and has received six honorary doctorates, the most recent from Swarthmore College in 2013.