Kathy-jo (nee Nelson) grew up in the beautiful and pristine northern woods of northeastern Minnesota, in an area known as the "Iron Range." She was born in 1964 in the town of Tower, which is not far from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Canada. Her father was a native of Tower, her mother was born and raised in nearby Aurora, Minnesota. After living in both of those small towns as a young child, her family moved to the nearby town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
It was amidst this beautiful though often harsh natural setting of the north that she fell in love with storytelling. As young as the age of four, she would sit on a stool at Marttila Drug or the Tower Bakery and listen to folks tell stories. “These were the perfect places for a little girl who loved stories. They were always filled with hard-working people – most of whom were from generational families native to northern Minnesota or immigrants who came from Scandinavia, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, and more. The iron range was well-known for its diverse mix of cultures and it was a place where people, for the most part, easily shared those cultures through food, work, marriage, and stories. Most folks lived there for the work the iron range offered as much as for the nature of the north woods. Many worked in the mines or for the logging companies, or they fished and trapped for their livelihood. They would talk to each other; they were friends. There was a lot of dry humor. They would tell stories or give each other a hard time and I would listen. I'm sure they barely noticed I was there. But I was. And I was listening to every word.”
Kathy-jo Wargin studied music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota Duluth and post-college, went on to receive her Certificate of Entrepreneurship from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kathy-jo has more than fifty books published through various publishers, and also provides content to publishers as a ghostwriter. In addition, in 2009 she designed a program to help other authors publish their own books and successfully sold the label in 2011. She now offers publishing services to others on an individual basis.
She has also been part of her husband, photographer Ed Wargin’s decades-long endeavor called The Fresh Coast Film Project and Fresh Coast Film Collection. It is a thirty-year art project capturing the Great Lakes region on film. The Great Lakes are important to both Kathy-jo and Ed, and their combined bodies of work reflect this ongoing commitment and dedication.
Kathy-jo is a frequent guest speaker at schools, conferences, professional associations, and more. She conducts writing and publishing workshops for children as well as adults.