Jay O'Callahan grew up in a section of Brookline, Massachusetts called "Pill Hill" because so many doctors lived there. The magical house and grounds were a perfect setting for his parents' parties which were filled with singing, drama and conversation -a great atmosphere for a child's imagination to blossom. When Jay was 14, he started telling stories to his little brother and sister at the parties to keep them occupied. It felt so natural, it never occurred to him that it could become a way of life.
Jay left "Pill Hill" to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. "It was there I became close to my uncle (Joseph O'Callahan S.J.) who later inspired the story of 'Father Joe.' I consider it my jazz piece - it's a long riff on peace and war."
After graduation, a tour in the Navy took Jay to the Pacific. "I was a supply officer and the Navy survived me." Returning to Massachusetts, he taught and eventually became Dean at the Wyndham School which his parents had founded. "In the summers I'd go off to Vermont or Ireland to write. I also did a lot of acting in amateur theatre, and that's where I met a beautiful woman (Linda McManus) who later became my wife. When we had our first child, I left teaching and became the caretaker of the YWCA in Marshfield, a big old barn on a salt-water marsh. That gave me time to write and to tell stories to my children. When I decided to call myself a storyteller, it was like getting on a rocket." Within three years, Jay was telling stories in Africa, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and on the public radio program, "The Spider's Web," which brought his work to national attention.
Many of Jay's characters are based on real life. The 'Pill Hill Stories' were inspired by people he knew when he was growing up. In 1980, while on vacation in Nova Scotia, he sat on and off for a month in the kitchen of an old man and a blind woman. Out of that kitchen came the story of 'The Herring Shed'. "I realized then that part of my gift was to sit down with ordinary people where they were comfortable, listen, and later weave a story together so that others could enjoy it. The process still amazes me: one year I'm in a kitchen in Nova Scotia and a few years later, I'm performing a story to a thousand people at Lincoln Center."
Storytelling has brought Jay around the earth. "The storyteller of old got on a horse. I get on a plane, parachute into a community and I'm part of its life for a while before moving on to the next one." 'The Spirit of the Great Auk,' about Richard Wheeler's re-tracing of the migratory journey of this now extinct bird, has taken him from Nantucket to New Zealand.
When he isn't on the road, Jay runs a writing workshop at his home. His other interests include reading everything from Walt Whitman to Herman Melville to Flannery O'Connor to Edan St. Vincent Milay. And he enjoys listening to jazz, classical music and opera. "I love Maria Callas. Her singing touches a joy that's very deep."
Jay is currently working on a novel about growing up. It takes place in a single day.