Gerald Purnell

Gerald Purnell is a multi-award-winning fine artist and illustrator. A native of West Philly, he attended public school and went on to graduate from Cheyney University with a degree in fine arts. After graduating, he worked several “day jobs,” including a department store window designer, telephone book ad creator, and Critics Choice Awards engraver, while also pursuing his true passion: creating art.

As cover artist of the Bluford Series, Gerald—through his striking pastel illustrations—provides the crucial “hook” that has drawn in a legion of reluctant readers, opening the door to a lifetime love of books. He is an also the illustrator of several children’s picture books, two of which have been inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress Permanent Collection: Am I a Color Too? and Pass It On.

A common theme in Gerald’s work is celebrating diversity and the power of the indomitable spirit of our youth. According to him, “Bluford is the perfect conduit for my mission to create images that both reflect and inspire our youth to read.”

Gerald lives in South Jersey with his wife and enjoys spending time with his two grown children and their families. He continues to work on new Bluford projects and can’t wait to share his latest creations!


Ben Alirez

Ben Alirez was born in Southern California and grew up on the tough streets of East Los Angeles and La Puente, California. A public-school graduate, Ben went on to attend Rio Hondo College and Mt. San Antonio College.

After graduating, Ben joined the workforce, laboring as a stock-boy, factory worker, assistant bookkeeper, and utility man. He also briefly participated in the sport of amateur boxing. It was while attending college that Ben encountered a spirited and highly competitive young woman in racquetball class. He was prompted to get to know her better—something he has been doing ever since! Carolina and Ben have been married for decades and have two grown sons.

His interest in writing began when a coworker read a business document Ben had written and declared that he had missed his calling. After that, he challenged himself to learn more about various forms of writing. Brothers in Arms was Ben’s first attempt at a novel. Stories that deliver positive messages of hope and redemption are what interest him the most, and his ability to write is something he attributes to his strong personal faith in God.

In addition to his titles in the Bluford Series, Ben has written other books about inner-city youth and, most recently, a fictional account dealing with pandemic survival. His retirement after thirty years of civil service has provided him more time for his writing and volunteer work in a local writing club.

Of his involvement in the Bluford Series, Ben says, “It has been one of the greatest privileges in my life” because they books are “impactful stories that readers can relate to. Stories that offer hope and a better tomorrow. . . . I’m proud to have played a role in that legacy.”

Devan (D.M.) Blackwell

Author and educator Devan Blackwell has been writing since the second grade, when he published a picture book as part of a class project. In the years that followed, writing would continue to be his outlet to be creative, to educate, and to inspire.

As a teacher in New Jersey’s urban school districts, Devan maintained the personal mission to help young people reach their highest potential through participation in the arts. His efforts in youth advocacy have earned him national recognition. Devan worked on the state level to implement educational programs that support K-12 students’ academic and social-emotional growth.

Prior to that, Devan earned a B.A. in Literature & Language Arts from Stockton State College, followed by an M.A. in Media Studies from New School University in New York City. He is earning his Ph.D. at Hampton University, where his research centers on the role of film in social-emotional learning—an endeavor that brings together his passions for cinema, education, and the well-being of students.

As an author of young-adult novels, including for the Bluford Series, Devan has found another powerful way to reach young audiences.

Karyn Langhorne Folan

Karyn Langhorne Folan graduated from Harvard Law School a couple of years ahead of President Obama. After practicing and teaching law for several years, Karyn decided to make a radical change: to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

Karyn quit her job and dug out an old novel she had been working on for years. Not only was that novel accepted for publication, but she was offered a four-book contract. Since then, she has written more than 30 other books.

Besides her titles in the Bluford Series, Karyn’s works include numerous romance and YA novels, as well as works of nonfiction. She has also been the ghostwriter for personalities in the entertainment and music industries.

Karyn’s writing has also ventured beyond books, as she is an accomplished screenwriter, including of the award-winning short film Baskets (2019), as well as of television pilots and a feature film. Karyn’s talents extend even to radio: For several years, she co-produced and hosted The Book Squad, a Washington D.C. radio show about the publishing industry. She still lives in that area with her husband and two daughters.

Peggy Kern

Peggy Kern was born and raised in the diverse community of Westbury, New York, where she attended local public schools. Peggy worked a variety of jobs through her teenage years, including cashier at a clothing store and the night shift in a bakery.

Peggy discovered her love of literature and writing at La Salle University in Philadelphia. However, the financial stress of paying for college herself—coupled with the painful divorce of her parents—proved overwhelming. She moved back to New York and took a full-time job as a secretary. Determined to finish her degree, she took night classes at a local community college and eventually landed a partial scholarship at Long Island University. She continued working full-time and taking classes until she earned a B.A. in English. Though it took her almost seven years to obtain her college degree, Peggy says she would do it all again: “The adversity made me work even harder. I never forgot how lucky I was to have a chance at an education.”

Peggy would go on to complete a Master’s degree in English and Writing at Southampton College. There she coordinated the Southampton Writers Conference, where she got to meet some of her literary heroes and assist students in pursing their dream of writing. She also taught English Composition, tutored undergraduates, and published several short stories.

Besides her writing for the Bluford Series, Peggy has published the acclaimed YA novel Little Peach. She lives in Massachusetts with her daughter.

John Langan

John Langan, founder of Townsend Press, is a former professor at Atlantic Cape Community College near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In addition to writing for the Bluford Series, John is also the author of two popular series of college English textbooks and the editor of the essay collection What I Believe. John’s mission has always been to help students develop the reading and writing skills to achieve success in the classroom and beyond. Before becoming a teacher and author, John earned advanced degrees in writing at Rutgers University and in reading at Rowan University. While in school, he supported himself by working as a truck driver, machinist, battery assembler, hospital attendant, and apple packer.

John lives with his wife, Judith Nadell, near Philadelphia. In addition to his wife and Philly sports teams, his passions include reading and helping non-readers discover the pleasure and power of books.

Through Townsend Press, he developed and continues to expand the Townsend Library, a collection of more than 120 new and classic stories that appeal to readers of all ages. And through his Bluford books, he has been able to present stories about two important themes in student life: bullying and loneliness.

Paul Langan

Born to a single mom in Philadelphia, Paul spent his early childhood in the city before moving to southern New Jersey. There he attended public schools and worked a variety of odd jobs including salesperson at a shoe store, attendant at a horse ranch, and landscaper at a mental hospital.

The sudden death of his stepfather while Paul was in twelfth grade shattered his home and derailed his college plans. After a year working nights in a warehouse, Paul took classes at community college and transferred to La Salle University. There he studied writing and literature, tutored in a Philly prison, lived with international students, and traveled to his roommate’s home in Kenya.

Paul’s experiences inspired him to write and teach. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and joined Townsend Press as an editorial assistant, where he developed a concept for a series of novels to engage teens: the Bluford Series. His stories draw from his own experiences growing up without a dad, being bullied in school, and coping with the loss of a loved one. His books have gone on to reach millions of readers nationwide.

Of his work on the Bluford Series, Paul says, “In the 1990’s, the publishing world overlooked a brilliant and vital community of young readers in America. I developed the Bluford Series to correct that mistake and invite teens of color into a world of stories that were engaging, exciting, and accessible. The Bluford Series was a pioneer in publishing, nudging the whole industry to do better. I am proud of that legacy and the countless readers and writers Bluford continues to inspire.”

Today Paul lives with his wife and three children near Philadelphia.

Tanya Savory

Tanya Savory was born in upstate New York but spent the first ten years of her life in Michigan. Her family moved again when her father accepted a position teaching English at a small liberal arts school for women in South Carolina. Tanya attended the University of South Carolina and received a B.A. in English.

After venturing out to attend graduate school at San Francisco State University, Tanya became more and more involved in music and songwriting—and, to her parents' dismay, less involved in graduate school.

Taking what would turn out to be a 15-year break from graduate studies, Tanya moved to Nashville to pursue her songwriting. Her self-produced CD of original music caught the attention of Rounder Records, which signed Tanya and released two more CDs of her music. After touring and playing venues nationally for almost ten years, Tanya returned to graduate school to finish her M.A. in English and writing.

Besides her titles in the Bluford Series, Tanya has also written numerous popular books in the Townsend Library. Tanya reflects, “I'm particularly happy to have written for the Bluford Series, as these books have opened the door to the life-changing joy of reading for millions of young people. I'm also a fan! There is not one book in the entire series that has ever failed to move me to tears and cheer for its authentic and lovable protagonists.”

In addition to writing and music, Tanya enjoys traveling and running. She lives in West Nashville with her wife, Cheryl.

Anne Schraff

Anne Schraff was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and earned a B.A. and M.A. from California State University, Northridge. She published her first story during her freshman year of college and went on to teach high school for ten years in San Diego until she left to pursue writing full time.

The diverse, working-class neighborhood in which Anne was raised served as an inspiration throughout her writing career—as was the painful racial strife she witnessed during the 1950’s and 60’s. This background guided both her choice of subject matter and her mission to write in straightforward but compelling way that encouraged a generation of students to embrace the joy of reading.

Anne went on to publish hundreds of short stories and more than 80 books, including historical fiction, biographies, science books, and her favorite genre: young-adult fiction, including, most notably, titles in the Bluford Series.

Sadly, Anne Schraff died on March 27, 2023 at the age of 88. As her former school colleague recognized after her passing, “Miss Schraff inspired us to understand rather than to memorize, to consider rather than to judge, and to love learning as a life-long pursuit.”