A native Iowan, O'Conner grew up with dreams of being Annie Oakley. Her priorities later changed as she attended Grinnell College to major in philosophy. With a degree but few marketable skills, O'Brien turned to graduate school and journalism. Rather than graduating, she quit school to work at the Waterloo Courier as a reporter. After covering the news for a time, O'Brien changed jobs to edit for the Des Moines Register. She then moved beyond Iowan publications and landed a job at the Wall Street Journal. Then for 15 years she worked at the New York Times, where she edited reviews sent in to the Sunday Book Review Section. At the Times she met her future husband, Stewart Kellerman, and married him one morning as they traveled to the office.
Her love of reading and her sense of humor helped O'Brien when an editor from Grosset/Putnam asked her to pen a grammar book. The success of Woe Is I astounded O'Brien and Stewart, who had assisted her. It's very unusual for a grammar guide to need a sequel, but O'Brien left the Times to write her second book called Words Fail Me. Since then she's co-authored another book with her husband. While she still writes for the New York Times, O'Brien also joins public radio on WNYC to talk about language usage. Writing and reading from her home in rural Connecticut remain two of O'Brien's favorite focuses in life.
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