Institute Speaker/Panelist Bio

Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant

With seven novels to their credit, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, best friends for over 25 years, have turned a friendship into the most successful and enduring writing collaboration in African American fiction.

Before becoming novelists, Donna was dared by co-workers at the New York Daily News to attend a model agency open call, which led to more than a decade as a plus size model, represented by the 12+ division of Ford Models. During that career, Donna was featured in catalogs and national ads, on the pages of such magazines as Essence, McCalls, Family Circle and Woman’s Day, and made appearances on “Today,” “Good Morning America,” and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.”

Virginia, a former high school English teacher from Buffalo, NY moved to New York City, after almost 10 years in the classroom, at the urging of a friend in the fashion business and started a successful career as a plus size model. She was frequently featured in catalogs, advertising, magazines and appeared on several television programs including “The Today Show.” She retired from modeling after two years and became Vice President of BB/LW, an agency for plus size and petite models, as well as a spokeswoman for Hanes hosiery.

The duo’s modeling careers led to the opportunity to launch Maxima, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for plus size women, where Virginia was editor-in-chief and Donna the managing editor.

When publication of Maxima ceased, Virginia and Donna decided to try writing a book together. Their efforts eventually led to Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made (1997), which was a critical success, an Essence magazine bestseller, and won the Merit Award for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, as well as the 1998 Book of the Year Award from the Blackboard Bestseller List/African American Booksellers Conference-Book Expo America. More than that, Tryin’ hit an emotional nerve with readers from all over the world who continue to write to Donna and Virginia more than a decade later. Far From the Tree (2000) became a New York Times bestseller, and Better Than I Know Myself (2004) received two Open Book Awards, and was included on the Best African American Fiction of 2004 lists of both Borders and WaldenBooks.

Donna attended Barnard College and is a graduate of New York University. A Brooklyn native, she currently lives in the borough with her husband.

Virginia attended Fisk University and is a graduate of SUNY at Buffalo. Virginia now lives in New Jersey.

Gotta Keep on Tryin’ (January 2008) was the long awaited sequel to their first novel, Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made. In January 2009, Touchstone Hardcover Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, published DeBerry and Grant’s novel, What Doesn’t Kill You. In 2011, Touchstone published their last novel, Uptown.

Please visit Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant at deberryandgrant.com.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT