Molly McCaffrey is the author of You Belong to Us (memoir) and How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters (stories) as well as the co-editor of Commutability: Stories about the Journey from Here to There and the founder of I Will Not Diet, a blog devoted to healthy living and body acceptance. 

You Belong to Us tells the story of McCaffrey's experience meeting her biological family just after her thirtieth birthday. The book follows more than a decade in the lives of her unconventional family and asks the question that lies at the heart of adoption: Do we belong to the people with whom we share our blood? Or do we belong to those who raise us?  

How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters is a collection of short stories about everyone from graduate students to Girl Scouts and teenagers to retirees. These stories are set in many of the places that fascinate McCaffrey: Baltimore, Annapolis, New Jersey, Indiana, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and East Berlin, but all of them have one thing in common: they are stories about surviving the disasters and dysfunctional relationships we all have with friends, family, and lovers.

McCaffrey was born in a Catholic hospital on the East Coast in 1970. There are only two pictures from the first six weeks she was alive—the same ones that inspired “Pictures of the Day I Was Born,” the only true story in How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters—because the day after her birth, she was transferred to an orphanage where she remained until she was adopted by her parents, Mike and Penny McCaffrey.

Her new parents took her to live with them in Annapolis where her father taught economics at the U.S. Naval Academy. After finishing his time in the military, her father accepted a job with Johnson & Johnson that led the family to spend two and a half years in Minneapolis, six weeks in Portland, Oregon, and finally eleven years in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Almost immediately after arriving in New Jersey, the McCaffreys got word that there was a baby available for adoption in Minneapolis, so the three of them hopped a plane to pick up McCaffrey’s younger sister, Katie.

McCaffrey and her sister grew up in Bridgewater, falling in love with all things Jersey: especially eating pizza and hoagies, swimming at the Jersey Shore, and daytripping to Manhattan.

Though childhood was a happy time, it was also when McCaffrey was introduced to the word “diet,” a sad truth she blames on Seventeen magazine, cheerleading, and numerous after-school specials.

Despite the fact that she was on the low end of the BMI scale until a skiing accident in her late twenties, McCaffrey admits she tried many diets as an adolescent and even stopped eating once for three days.

During her freshman year in high school, McCaffrey’s father took a new job that relocated the family to a small town in northern Indiana called Warsaw, where she learned that Joisey accents and Bruce Springsteen didn’t play well in the Midwest. Despite this, she learned to love the Indiana sunsets and afternoons on the lake, ultimately finishing high school at Warsaw Community High School three years later.

McCaffrey received her B.A. in journalism and graphic design from Indiana University during the golden era of Bobby Knight and not long after the first Gulf War. It was in college when she met her future husband, bestselling novelist David Bell, and began to question traditional notions of beauty—perhaps it is not a coincidence that these two things happened at the same time.

After college, she interned as a graphic designer at The Shreveport Times in Louisiana before studying in the M.F.A. program at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Feeling as restless and fickle as most recent college grads, McCaffrey dropped out of grad school after two quarters and headed to Washington, D.C. where she lived and worked as a graphic designer for the next five years—first at the National Crime Prevention Council and then at George Washington University.

During that time, McCaffrey contacted the adoption agency that placed her to obtain any medical history provided by her biological family before she was adopted.

This was also when she began working in film and writing fiction during her spare time, ultimately deciding to give up graphic design for the latter, a decision which led her back to her favorite place: graduate school.

Just weeks before beginning the M.A. program in creative writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, McCaffrey married David Bell. In Oxford the two of them lived in a four-hundred-square-foot apartment and quickly learned writing doesn’t always pay the bills.

That same year McCaffrey decided to contact the adoption agency again to find out if they could tell her anything about where she came from. It turned out to be easier than she expected, and a few months later, she was exchanging letters and phone calls with her biological mother, who had eventually married her biological father. The two of them ultimately had four more children together, and a year later, McCaffrey and Bell took a trip east to meet the whole clan. This life-changing experience is the basis for You Belong to Us.

When they finished at Miami, McCaffrey and Bell weren’t sure what to do with a Master’s degree in creative writing, so they did what most people do: they went to more school. This time they enrolled in the Ph.D. program in creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.

After five years of writing and studying and teaching and a random case of facial paralysis, McCaffrey and Bell finished their doctorates. They stayed in Cincinnati one more year while McCaffrey finished her first novel—the never published Five Miles from Nowhere.

A year later they moved to a quiet town in North Carolina called Laurinburg to teach at St. Andrews University for two years before Bell accepted a teaching position at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they have lived since 2008. 

McCaffrey can be contacted via email at molly at mollymccaffrey dot com.