Loree Griffin Burns

Author Loree Griffin Burns ’91 Shares Her Passion for Science

Honeybees, beetles, moths—Loree Griffin Burns writes about many different insects, but one she hasn’t covered yet? The bookworm. The reason is pretty simple: instead of writing about them, she writes for them.

“Writing was a surprise career for me,” Burns says. “It wasn’t what I set out to do, but I love it. I’m constantly learning about new things I find interesting, and then I get to share with other people who also find those things interesting. That’s really what my job is, and it’s so perfect for me.”

Insects aren’t the only things she writes about either. Since her first book, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, was published in 2007, she’s written children’s books on being a citizen scientist, butterfly farms, the Asian longhorned beetle infestation, the quest to save the honey bees, backyard moth balls, and life on Surtsey, an Icelandic island that just came into being in 1963. Her next book, scheduled for release in May 2022, is Honeybee Rescue: A Backyard Drama. It focuses on a man who rescues bee colonies from places people don’t want them, transporting their wax and colonies safely to the apiary in his own backyard.

Stories of science were what I wanted to share with my own kids, and my career grew out of that realization.

Like all the best stories, Burns’s path to the printed word wasn’t without a little foreshadowing, even if she didn’t recognize it at the time. While majoring in biology at WPI, her Sufficiency (now known as the Humanities & Arts requirement) was about realism in contemporary children’s literature. She completed a project exploring the idea that novels often labeled as “too difficult” for children are actually giving them access to stories they need and that are important to them. When she moved on to graduate classes at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, that passion for writing followed and she did pro bono work for its public affairs office about faculty research.

Despite seeds of a writing career planted and fostered throughout those years, it wasn’t until she earned her PhD in biochemistry and took a break from academia to start her family that the idea really began to take hold. “I began writing in earnest again, and it finally hit me one day that maybe what I should be writing was not novels or poetry, but books about science,” she says. “It’s what I was trained in. It’s what I’m passionate about. Stories of science were what I wanted to share with my own kids, and my career grew out of that realization.”

Clearly a passion for the subject matter is essential to Burns’s work as a writer, and she credits her dedication to learning and embracing firsthand experiences to her project-based education from WPI. 

“Experiential learning is a big part of what I do in my work and in researching my books, and I learned from my time at WPI that there’s no substitute for firsthand experience,” she explains. “When I wrote my first book about bees, I knew I needed to wear the beekeeper’s gear—to get in there and soak up the experience. It’s a method I still use to this day.”

Better yet, that desire for more sensory details in her writing has also evolved into a new passion. Thanks to her research, Burns has had an apiary in her own backyard and she and her husband have been keeping bees for the past 10 years.

When she’s not writing, she teaches at Montserrat College of Art and Vermont College of Fine Arts—experiences that have helped her understand what’s brought to the classroom by both teacher and learner. “Teaching has given me a new perspective on the education I got at WPI and UMass and the passion my professors had. Sparking other people’s passion requires passion of your own. And while the teacher provides a lot of spark for the learning that happens, the student also brings a lot to the table,” she says. “The learning goes both ways. I find that delightful.”

In addition to being a memoir of how she eventually became a writer and was able to share her passions through her work, Burns’s own story is a great example of a compelling retrospective. “It didn’t make a lot of sense along the way,” she reflects, “but when I look back—especially when I recently pulled out my Sufficiency and looked at the title again—I thought, ‘Boy, I’ve actually been on this trajectory for a long time. It just took me a bit to realize it.’”

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