Mary Kathleen “Kate” Dopirak, a rising children’s book author, died on October 10 in suburban Pittsburgh of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder. She was 43.
Dopirak was born October 3, 1975 and raised in the Pittsburgh suburb of Hampton Township, where she developed an early love of books and was particularly fond of playing “library” in her family home. She received her B.A. in English in 1998 from Allegheny College, where she met her future husband, Josh Dopirak. Kate began teaching elementary school after college in 1998 and went on to earn a M.S. in education and reading specialist certification from Duquesne University in 2000. In 2005, she became a full-time mother to her two sons, and also took the first steps toward realizing the dream of a second career as a writer.
As she pursued writing books for children, with a goal of sharing her own love of reading, Dopirak became active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, serving as the assistant regional advisor for SCBWI’s Western Pennsylvania region. Some of her early pieces appeared in such publications as Highlights, Parents, and Scholastic Magazine. In 2012, she signed with agent Tracey Adams at the Adams Literary Agency, and her first picture book, You’re My Boo (S&S/Beach Lane), was published in 2016. Two other titles soon followed, Snuggle Bunny (Scholastic/Cartwheel, 2016) and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Car (S&S/Beach Lane, Feb. 2018). Her final picture book, Hurry Up!, will be published posthumously by Beach Lane next summer.
Adams recalled some favorite memories of her client and friend. “I will miss the magic of reading new picture book texts from Kate When I first read Hurry Up!, I smiled big and knew it would be an important book for her. We will all be singing its praises soon.”
She added that Dopirak was a friend to many in the children’s book community, especially through SCBWI. “Once I received an unexpected package from Kate. It was a photograph of my family that she’d found on social media and had framed for me, along with the sweetest note about our love of making fun memories with our families. This thoughtful gesture is typical of Kate—she went above and beyond for her family and friends.”
Andrea Welch, executive editor at Beach Lane Books, who edited Dopirak's work and was also a friend, offered this remembrance: “Kate approached her writing with playfulness, passion, great humor, and genuine warmth,” Welch said. “I was so lucky to be her editor—and her friend. Only Kate would send a box of gifts for my newborn baby that included a much-needed tube of eye-puffiness reducer for me! All of us here at Beach Lane and S&S will miss her dearly, but it’s heartening to know that her wonderful picture books will live on, bringing the same kind of joy to young children that she brought to everyone.”