Excerpt: Lin’s Uncommon Life by Scott Shackelford and Emily Castle

Photo of Scott Shackelford and Emily Castle; "Lin's Uncommon Life" book cover
Lin's Uncommon Life, written by Scott Shackelford and Emily Castle, was published in April 2023. Book cover courtesy of IU Press.

Elinor “Lin” Ostrom’s life was an incredible journey. Being the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in Economics was an achievement of a lifetime. But it was just the culmination of a life spent struggling against the odds.

Even while overcoming childhood hardships and a stutter and being denied opportunities because she was a woman, Lin never lost sight of the wonders around her and was always curious to learn more. Lin would teach generations of students the lessons she learned through a lifetime of research and dedication. As Lin said, “little by little, bit by bit, family by family, so much good can be done on so many levels.”

Discover Lin’s Uncommon Life, and let it be an inspiration to follow your own path. Small steps, taken one at a time, can lead you somewhere truly uncommon in the end.

Lin woke up early. She usually did. Lin liked to lie in bed listening to music playing on the radio downstairs. It filled the house, and her heart, as she thought about the day ahead.

Lin walked downstairs and saw her dad sitting at the dining room table. “What’s that, Dad?” Lin asked.

“Good morning sweetie! It’s a model for a new musical,” her dad said. “We’re moving lots of dirt and planting a little forest to make it look real.”

“Neat,” Lin said. She thought to herself that she liked the look of the scene with trees and flowers. There was something about nature that called to her. She wanted to understand it, to cherish it.

Illustration of Elinor Ostrom as a child in her backyard
Illustration by Hannah Dickens

Lin grew up many years ago in Beverly Hills, California. She lived in a house with a big backyard. There were fruit trees and lots of space for a garden. Lin’s family grew their own vegetables. It made Lin feel independent. She liked solving her own problems.

When Lin was seven, her parents got divorced. It was a sad, confusing time. Lin and her mom moved into an apartment away from their big backyard. One bright spot was Lin’s grandmother. They loved baking cookies together.

Moving meant Lin went to a new school. It was in the fancy part of town. The other kids lived in big houses and wore nice clothes. Sometimes Lin felt out of place in her simple clothes. She was also embarrassed by how she spoke. Lin had a stutter. This made it hard for her to get the words she wanted to say out.

Illustration of Elinor Ostrom as a teenager outside her high school
Illustration by Hannah Dickens

When Lin was in high school, a teacher saw past the stutter to something special inside. The teacher said to Lin, “You’re smart. I know how to help with that stutter. Join the debate team!”

After a lot of hard work, Lin was a debating champion. She learned important lessons: There are two sides to every argument. You need to defend your ideas. And it is important to see where the other person is coming from. Lin was not going to let a stutter hold her back.

Lin graduated at a time when most girls did not go to college, unlike today. But, thanks to Lin’s good education, she knew that was the path for her!

If you enjoyed this excerpt, check out our interview with Scott Shackelford and Emily Castle or purchase their book.

Excerpt from Lin’s Uncommon Life by Scott Shackelford and Emily Castle and illustrated by Hannah Dickens. Copyright © 2023 by Text—Trustees of Indiana University; Artwork—Hannah Dickens. Reprinted by permission of IU Press. All rights reserved.

Written By
IUAA Staff