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JeFF Stumpo grew up in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He attended Schaumburg High School, where he indulged in a love of writing without any serious aspirations: working on an underground newspaper, sending off a few poems and stories to contests designed for high school students, and hamming it up in his senior English class. He began college in 1998, attending Illinois Wesleyan University as a History major.
After having a rocky first year, Jeff spent the summer of 1999 doing an internship with the advertising firm Wunderman Cato Johnson. It was writing copy for advertising campaigns for Sears, Barilla Pasta, and Jim Beam (and tying these brands to other properties such as Star Wars and Pokemon) that made him realize he was a writer with an interest in history, not a historian with an interest in writing.
Upon returning to Illinois Wesleyan University, he changed his major to English with an emphasis on creative writing. He studied under various professors for the next three years, the most influential including Christine Hume and John O’Leary. He became engaged to Kate Leibold in February 2002. Throughout this period, he had intended to teach high school English. After completing the coursework for his degree, he spent a 9th-semester student-teaching in inner-city Chicago at Benito Juarez High School. While the experience was edifying, personal issues forced JeFF to withdraw early from the program. He spent the spring of 2003 in Iowa with his fiancée, Kate, while she completed her degree in Chemistry at the University of Northern Iowa. They were married and two weeks later moved to Texas to begin graduate school at Texas A & M University.