Eric Hoffman Biography (1946-)

Eric, Sunny, the llama, and friends on the summit of Mt Whitney in l979.

Eric’s earliest childhood memory is of hiding behind bushes gripping a string that led to a stick holding up one end of a box trap. Birdseed had been scattered around and under the propped-up box. In a short while a small flock of birds landed and began pecking. When one wandered under the box Eric gave the string a yank. The box dropped over the bird. With a heart throbbing rush, he ran to the trap and grabbed the bird while his Dad followed along behind thumbing through a bird book. Eric’s first trap & release bird identification, at the age of 4 was of a white-crowned sparrow. Eric’s passionate curiosity about animal life has been a constant ever since that moment.  It led him to assignments around the world to write about animals of all kinds, their habitats and the people involved with them.

Eric is the second son of Louise Hoffman, a teacher and artist, and William P Hoffman, an assistant District Attorney.  After his father attended Stanford Law School, the family moved to nearby Los Altos where Eric grew up in the 50s and 60s, when much of the area was covered in orchards and oak grasslands. By time he was eight his interest in animals, and ability to persuade his parents to have more of them, led to a backyard menagerie. In his many terrariums one could find everything from Horned and Whip-tailed lizards, Kingsnakes, a Rattlesnake named Brother Buzz (for shaking his rattle at people who drew to near), a skunk, wood rats, shrews, chipmunks and just about everything else that slithered or walked within 10 miles of the family home.  Brother Buzz’s stay was cut short when the neighborhood’s mothers got wind of Eric feeding a live rat to a “pet rattlesnake.” Within a week a vigilante group of mothers showed up at the front door and demanded that the snake must go.  Opting for harmony in the neighborhood Eric and his father coaxed Brother Buzz into a cloth sack, took him into the hills and released him.

As a student at Los Altos High School, Eric remembers having trouble with writing. Etched into his psyche is thecomment, “dull as dishwater,” scribbled in bright red ink at the top of his English A exam for expository writing.  At the end of high school he could only think of two noteworthy accomplishments: being a starter on the ’63 championship football team, and throwing renowned parties for his friends when his parents were away. He got through the school’s college prep curriculum but remembers more pain than joy in scholarship.  

Eric’s passion shifted to academic pursuits when he went to the local community college. He credits John Rink, a writing instructor at Foothill Junior College, for changing his life by teaching him to write, a skill he was to expand on throughout his life with the influence of long list of mentors.

After graduating from San Jose State University with a BA in History in 1968, he earned three teaching credentials and began his teaching career in east Oakland, an environment challenging enough for his draft board to grant him a deferment from military service.  This amounted to a reprieve from going to the Viet Nam War. He liked teaching and stayed with it for a decade. After Oakland he taught junior high and high school in Woodside and Palo Alto, California, and eventually wrangled a job at San Jose State University as a lecturer in magazine writing.

Eric has published approximately 400 magazine articles, six books and his writing has appeared in three anthologies. He has written for 32 different publishers.

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Eric Hoffman crossing the Flinders Ranges in South Australia via camel circa l982.

Most of his work deals with natural history, biological sciences and profiles of interesting people. Though he usually works alone he has produced several books as collaborative efforts with several authors.  His California Living article “Sunny, the Pioneer Llama” popularized llamas in the United States, and the article shared in winning the prestigious Maggie and National Headliner Awards for Best Tabloid in l980. He is also proud of being awarded a Pushmi-Pullyu Award by the International Llama Association in l992 for his articles about camelids published in national and international magazines.

Eric learned how to survive as a writer by adhering to the following rules: 1.) Write about what stirs your passion 2.) Pick topics other writers are not likely to attempt (crossing the Sierras with a pack llama for instance, or cruising down rivers in tropical Australia with scientists doing demographic studies on behemoth Saltwater crocodiles) 3.) Know a topic as well as the primary sources 4.) Develop a niche requiring special expertise 5.) Write to length and style to fit the magazine 6.) Pick topics in which the research phase has the potential to produce more than three stories 7.) Be accurate. 8.) Write for money 9.) Travel at somebody else’s expense to and from the story.

Eric lives in a house he built on rural property that borders a mountain park in California. He has raised llamas, alpacas and guanacos there for 35 years.

Eric is married to Sherry Edensmith, a lifetime friend from high school who he reconnected with in 1998.  He credits much of his recent success to Sherry’s skill as an editor, writer and an emotional cheerleader. She was the force behind The Complete Alpaca Book, and The Alpaca Evaluation:  a guide for owners and breeders book and DVD set.