Jim Murphy was born in Newark, New Jersey, on September 25, 1947, to Helen (Grosso) and James K. Murphy. His father was a certified public accountant, and his mother was an artist who also worked as a bookkeeper. Murphy was not particularly interested in reading as a youngster, but he was athletically precocious and adventurous. As a teenager, he held a number of physically demanding jobs and remembers construction work as his favorite of these. He also was a nationally ranked high school sprinter who participated on two national champion relay teams. He became interested in literature in high school only after he discovered that there were books adults did not want him to read; this motivated him to find and read those books.
Murphy attended Rutgers University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1970. He attended graduate school briefly at Radcliffe College in 1970. He landed a job as a secretary in the juvenile department for Seabury Press (now Clarion Books), a publisher highly regarded for the quality of its publications for children, and he eventually became managing editor. While working for Seabury Press Murphy realized that his childhood adventures and the various jobs he held as a teenager provided him with experiences that he could write about for young readers. In 1977, he left Seabury Press and became a freelance writer and editor. His first book, Weird and Wacky Inventions, was published in 1978. The nonfiction work received very good reviews, and Murphy’s literary career was set in motion. During the 1990s, Murphy turned increasingly to historical subjects, of which Across America on an Emigrant Train is a typical example.
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