Another light in the literary world burns less brightly. It is not that the light has disappeared, for this author of more than 60 books leaves a warm radiance that will glow forever. Madeleine L’Engle died on September 6, 2007, at the age of 88. She had been in a nursing home for the last three years.
Although I read many, many books from the time I learned to distinguish letters as words, it wasn’t until my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Rausch, read A Wrinkle in Time out loud to our class that I felt the true power that words could have. That book changed my life. It made me want to become a communicator in the way that Madeleine L’Engle reached people. She did this, not by writing for children, but by writing to tell the story she needed to tell. And she did this in a way that felt honest. L’Engle was often quoted as saying, “”In my dreams, I never have an age. I never write for any age group in mind. … When you underestimate your audience, you’re cutting yourself off from your best work.” Her readers felt that respect.
Born on November 29, 1918, Madeleine L’Engle shared her story with her readers in a number of books for children and adults, her Crosswicks Journals, and her reflections on life and faith. Raised by two parents who had professions in the arts, young Madeleine often felt neglected. She spent time in boarding school in Europe and on theater stages in America.
She had books published before A Wrinkle in Time, but it is the wondrous story of that book’s publication which is often told as a fireside story of inspiration to yet-unpublished authors. I have heard it said that the manuscript was rejected as many as twenty-six to forty times, depending on the story’s teller.
Her books were interconnected, characters in one book knowing or writing to characters in another book. This brought her readers closer into the community of her books, knowing we were just a step away from receiving a letter ourselves. I’ve always expected to meet Canon Tallis in my travels.
Although I own all of her books, it is Many Waters that supplies the treat of “The L’Engle Family Tree” on its endpapers. Here, readers can see visually how each of the characters in L’Engle’s fiction fit into the overall picture.
L’Engle published Two-Part Invention, about her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin at a time when my own marriage benefited from her thoughtful words.
My favorite book is The Arm of the Starfish, because it was the first time that I realized a book could be smart. I admire The Young Unicorns for its handling of tough subjects. Dragons in the Water helped me to understand that one could embrace knowledge in many fields. Perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts from Ms. L’Engle’s books: the knowledge that self can be as large and varied and complex as you want it to be.
Madeleine L’Engle was honored with a Newbery Medal, a National Humanities Medal, the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and the USM Medallion, among numerous others. Perhaps best of all, she was honored by her legions of readers, hungry for each new novel.
Her books were fewer in the last decade, and often they were explorations of faith and family from a mature writer, but I could always maintain hope that a new book from Madeleine L’Engle would soon be announced. In fact, a new YA book will come out in 2008, entitled The Joys of Love. For this reader, a great sadness fills my heart, knowing that we will no longer hear the thoughts of one of this life’s most eloquent writers.
Clyde Robert Bulla, author, died on May 23, 2007, at the age of 93, in his home state of Missouri.
Born on January 9, 1914, on a farm outside King City, Missouri, he said “As soon as I discovered words and what they meant and what they could be made to mean, my path was set.” Determined to be a writer, he often had to stay up late writing after working long hours on the farm.
The author of more than 60 books for children, he wrote about his experiences with life, first in his book The Donkey Cart, published in 1946. This book was his first for children, written only because a member of his by-correspondence writing group encouraged him. Emma Celeste Thibodeaux encouraged Bulla to write for children. She showed his first manuscript to Lois Lenski, who in turn showed it to her editor, Elizabeth Riley at T.Y. Crowell. Riley bought it, Lenski edited it, and a new children’s author was born. Thereafter, Bulla wrote two books each year for Ms. Riley at Crowell. They included books set in countries to which Bulla traveled: Britain, Sweden, Russia, China, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Ireland, and France. He wrote about the American West in Riding the Pony Express.
His other great love was music, which he grew to love by listening to the radio in his bedroom on the farm. Bulla eventually converted some of these operas into stories for children: Stories of Favorite Operas, Stories of Wagner’s Niebelung Operas, and Stories of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. He hoped they would grow to share his passion for the music.
Although he lived in southern California for much of his life, he returned in later years to live in Missouri.
Lloyd Alexander was responsible for one of those captured-clearly-in-memory moments in this reader’s life … from the time I picked up The Book of Three until the day I finished the last page of The High King, I breathed, ate, slept (laying on the brown tweed American Colonial-style couch in our living room, television off) those five books of The Chronicles of Prydain. Filled with humor, they gave me tantalizing tendrils of Celtic and Welsh mythology, prompting me to read Evangline Walton’s Welsh Mabinogion novels and seek out the Mabinogion itself. That’s the power of an excellent fantasy writer—you don’t want to leave the world they’ve created.
Lloyd Chudley Alexander was born on January 30, 1924. He was reading by the time he was three, and always with a great fondness for mythology. He didn’t enjoy school, his grades weren’t good, but he worked in a bank to earn his college tuition. He dropped out of college after one term and joined the US Army, serving in Army Intelligence in Europe during WWII. Alexander attended the University of Paris. While there, he was befriended by Gertrude Stein. In Paris, he met and married Janine Denni and the two of them moved to Pennsylvania to raise their daughter, Madeleine.
His first book was And Let the Credit Go, published for adults in 1955. It wasn’t until 1963 that Time Cat was published, beginning his career as a children’s book author. In 1969, the last of the Prydain Chronicles, The High King, was honored with the Newbery Award. His books The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian and Westmark won the National Book Award in 1971 and 1982, respectively. The author of more than forty children’s books, he has earned the title of Grand Master of Fantasy. His last novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, will be published by Henry Holt this August.
Mr. Alexander died on May 17, 2007, just two weeks after his wife of 61 years passed away. He had been ill for some time.
“[F]antasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction. It has the same emotional power as a dream.”
—from The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard Marcus (Candlewick Press, 2006)
“I never did find out all I wanted to know about writing and realize I never will. All that writers can do is to keep trying to say what is deepest in their hearts. If writers learn more from their books than do readers, perhaps I may have begun to learn.”