Author and editor Erin Torneo is highly praised and accomplished in the world of literary achievements. Ms. Torneo is a 2007 Fellow in Nonfiction Literature at the New York Foundation for the Arts and a 2008 Soros Justice Media Fellow at the Open Society Institute. She also won the 2010 American Society of Journalists & Authors Arlene Award for Books That Make a Difference. Her literary awards are accompanied by a significant number of publications in magazines such as SOMA, SEED, Lucky, The Kyoto Journal, indieWire, The Independent, Variety, and Seal Press. Ms. Torneo is a former editor for Cosmopolitan magazine and has written two nonfiction works, including The Bridal Wave: A Survival Guide to the Everyone-I-Know-is-Getting-Married Years, and the New York Times best seller Picking Cotton.
Erin Torneo grew up in a small suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, but ventured far from home when she decided to attend UCLA for her undergraduate degree. She was a creative writing major and worked in film, but did not pursue writing passionately until she moved to Japan and began writing for magazines. Ms. Torneo said once she began getting paid to write, she was hooked on the profession. While in Japan, she lived with her friend Valerie Cabrera Krause who was the coauthor of The Bridal Wave. The book focused on "waiting for Mr. Right" and the pressures of getting married at a certain age. Ms. Torneo was struggling with this concept herself; however, the day after she turned in her manuscript for the book, her boyfriend proposed.
The Bridal Wave opened doors for Ms. Torneo to pursue new literary projects. Her good friend, film producer Jessica Sanders, had just made a movie entitled After Innocence featuring an appearance by Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. Jessica Sanders knew that Thompson and Cotton wanted to write a book about their experiences and passed the project on to Ms. Torneo. After reading about their case and speaking with Jennifer on the phone, Ms. Torneo flew to North Carolina to meet the pair. The three of them hit it off immediately and Erin states that writing about such a compelling story is intimate and she felt honored to be a part of Picking Cotton.
Erin Torneo lives in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and two sons.
Written by, Sarah Christian, student author
Now an avid activist for judicial reform, Jennifer Thompson has been through much in her lifetime. She was born in 1962 to Jim and Janet Thompson, who were originally from Winston Salem, where Jennifer would reside for the majority of her life. Her childhood was typical of rural North Carolina. In her own words, she had "lots of siblings and pets to play with." From the age of nine to sixteen, she and her family lived on a farm with cows, chickens, goats, and sheep. Just a couple of short years after moving from the farm, Jennifer began college at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, pursuing a degree in sports management.
On July 29, 1984 her life was changed forever. A man broke into her apartment and raped her. After the accused was sentenced to life in prison, Jennifer struggled to put her life back together.
Following the trial, she married Vinny Cannino and two years later they had triplets, Blake, Morgan, and Brittany. Although her beautiful family made it easier to cope with her past, she was never able to accept completely what happened to her on that dreadful July night. Eleven years after putting the man that she was sure had raped her behind bars, she found out that he was innocent. She lived in constant fear and guilt until she finally agreed to meet him face to face. She and the accused formed a lifelong friendship.
After Jennifer's divorce from her first husband, she married Frank Baumgartner, and she currently resides in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Her daughters are successful college students, one of whom currently attends Elon University. Her son works in the lobster industry in Maine. She and Ronald remain great friends and have been able to deal with their grief by publishing their story in an inspiring, uplifting memoir. They now work with many organizations, such as the North Carolina Center of Actual Innocence, in order to advocate the need for judicial reform.
Jennifer begain writing Picking Cotton with co-authors Ronald Cotton and Erin Torneo in 2006. After forgiving her rapist, forming a friendship with Ronald, and accepting everything that has happened to her, Jennifer is now able to share her story with others without the humiliation and guilt she once felt before. After years of remembering and writing every gruesome detail of her rape, Picking Cotton was officially published on March 9, 2009. By March 22 it had made the New York Times Best Sellers List.
Written by: Alexis Luther & Madelon Wygand, student authors
Ronald Cotton had a troubled childhood that included jail time at sixteen years old for breaking and entering with the intent to rape. When drunk, he snuck into his white girlfriend’s house thinking they could “fool around”, but her mom caught them and had him arrested. A little later he dropped out of high school. His lack of education and previous charges led to his arrest on 1 August 1984 for the rape of Jenifer Thompson.
Ronald spent eleven years in prison and was finally released in June of 1995, when he was exonerated by DNA evidence. Ronald struggled to adapt to life outside of prison, but he eventually came to live a more normal life. He originally found a job at Lab Corp, a DNA testing center, but is now working at an insulation plant. He has a beautiful wife and a daughter; they live together in Burlington, NC.
In August 2011, Ronald suffered a stroke that gave him a useless right arm, bad right leg, and a droopy face. Ronald has teamed up with Jennifer and is traveling the United States talking to exonerees, law students, and audiences interested in his book and experience. He and Jennifer are attempting to transform the legal system to prevent future wrongful convictions and to free those who have been wrongfully convicted.
Written by Andrew Geddes, student author