Each month, as part of our Aging in Atlanta series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution introduces readers to a member of the city’s thriving 55+ community. This month, we profile John-Manuel Andriote, senior writer for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and blogger for Psychology Today.
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Andriote has authored multiple books including a beloved children’s story, “Wilhelmina Goes Wandering,” inspired by true events involving a rogue runaway cow in Connecticut. Andriote built his journalism career over more than two decades in Washington, D.C., including reporting for the Washington Post. In addition to his first children’s book, his stories reflect his diverse interests and include an award-winning history of the AIDS epidemic and a history of disco dance music. Currently based in Brookhaven, Andriote shared his thoughts on living and working in the Atlanta area.
Q: What drew you to the Atlanta area from Connecticut?
In April 2021, I moved to Georgia from my home state of Connecticut — where I’d been living for 14 years after returning from nearly 30 years “away,” as New Englanders say. I spent 22 of those years in Washington, DC, building my journalism — mainly health/medical writing — career.
When friends asked why I moved to Atlanta, my response is “opportunity.” There are more opportunities here for the kind of health/medical writing I have done for many years, for meeting and making new friends and (for) a more satisfying social life than I had back in eastern Connecticut.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in metro Atlanta so far?
Something I really like about Atlanta is its convenient proximity to other cities and places that I enjoy exploring, such as the North Georgia mountains and Florida. And I love the city’s beautiful greenery, the abundant tree cover that makes it “the city in the forest,” the beautiful public parks, and many beautifully landscaped homes. I have long been interested in plants and flowers, and Atlanta is a horticultural paradise.
I also moved to Georgia because my two sisters were already living here with their grown children and a few grandchildren. Moving here has provided us the chance to get to know one another as grownups, after mostly living far apart our entire adult lives. We do lots of fun family things together, including a trip to Florida ... the Atlanta Greek Festival — we are of Greek ancestry on Dad’s side — and day trips together to various festivals and tourist areas, like Stone Mountain Park and Helen.
For the first time in my life, really, I feel very much part of a family — and a valued and esteemed family member at that. ... (I)t’s the first time we have all lived close together — they live in the Loganville and Snellville areas — since (childhood).
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Q: What attracted you to your current role with the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University? What do you enjoy most about your work there?
I applied for the senior writer job at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University before I moved to Atlanta because I recognized a unique, excellent opportunity to use my health/medical journalism skills to help support an institution doing work that matters to a lot of people — including far too many close to me who have been affected by cancer. It’s an exciting time to have my particular role at Winship as chief storyteller because there are so many fascinating and inspiring stories to tell there.
Q: What inspired you to write your children’s book, Wilhelmina Goes Wandering?
I authored the book based on the true story of a runaway cow in Connecticut — which has allowed me several opportunities to read and share it with — mostly — elementary school-age children. In October, back in Connecticut, I read it at Calf Pen Meadow School, in Milford, C.T., which is actually featured in the book as it is located where the “real” Wilhelmina often appeared as she was traveling with a herd of deer during the five months in 2011 that she was “on the lam” — as the news media that covered the unusual story called it.
Also, this is a deeply personal story for me — essentially, it’s about Wilhelmina’s “coming out” to accept herself as the free spirit that her deer and human friends recognize her to be. I know that story as a gay man, though, the book applies universally to anyone who feels “different” — or underappreciated for who they are authentically. It’s all about learning to embrace our differences in such a way that they become our “super-power.”
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Q: What has the response been so far to the book?
I love to share the story of Wilhelmina, the runaway cow who leaves her familiar pasture in Connecticut to find her true home. I get so much joy from the way little kids are so open and unabashed in the questions they ask.
It’s hard to express the deep joy I have felt from the responses to “Wilhelmina Goes Wandering” from little kids and from their teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents. People have loved this story and the beautiful watercolor illustrations that bring it to life. I “reimagined” the factual story of Wilhelmina to be a tale of a free-spirited cow who runs away because her farmer/owner doesn’t appreciate her as she is. With her deer friends — and later with the kind old Scottish lady farmer who adopts her — my fictionalized character “Betty” at “Betty’s Farm” — Wilhelmina finds acceptance and love exactly as she is.
Q: If people are interested in learning more about your books, or scheduling an appearance, how can they reach you?
People can learn more about the adventures of Wilhelmina at runawaycowbook.com, and they can reach me through my website jmandriote.com.