Friday, September 7, 2007

Goodbye, Mrs. Whatsit

My first favorite author, Madeleine L'Engle, died yesterday at age 88.

You may have discovered Madeleine L'Engle as a child, like I did, when you read A Wrinkle in Time. But you may not have realized just how prolific she was, and how diverse her writings. L'Engle published more than 60 works of fiction, poetry, autobiography, prayers, plays, and short stories since 1944, according to her official web site.

I loved her stories because her characters were so real to me. At least one of them was me: Meg Murray, an under-performing oddball who doesn't know the meaning of moderation and who wears every emotion on her sleeve. I loved the way L'Engle seamlessly spliced science, fantasy and faith together to create an intense, smart, mystical, and compelling plot. She was a brilliant, out-of-the-box storyteller, whether she was writing a memoir or crafting fiction.

In Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (reviewed in this very blog) she contrasted her own upbringing with that of her husband, Hugh: he had siblings and warm relationships in a traditional family; and she was an only child raised, as she says, in a house full of artists of one kind or another, and educated primarily in boarding schools.

She was born in New York City, but her family moved frequently, and she lived for periods in the French Alps, Switzerland, Florida, and South Carolina. L'Engle attended Smith College in Massachusetts, and moved back to New York in 1941 after graduation.

Working in theater in New York, she met and married the actor Hugh Franklin. After their first child, Josephine, was born in 1947, they moved to the country. Their old white farmhouse, the eponymous Crosswicks, became the setting for four memoirs. Son Bion was born in 1952, and seven-year-old Maria, daughter of close friends, became part of their family in 1956 when her parents died suddenly.

The family moved back to New York City in 1959 so that Hugh Franklin could resume his acting career. L'Engle became re-engaged in the life of the city, volunteering as a librarian at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (where she also was writer-in-residence for many years), teaching, speaking, and serving as president of the Author's Guild.

L'Engle's writings often include spiritual themes, and the Newbery Medal winner claimed, "It takes a lot of intellect to have faith, which is why so many people only have religiosity." Let's talk about what that means in a future blog post, shall we?

Her writings have won many awards and prizes, including the John Newbery Medal (for A Wrinkle in Time), Newbery Honor Book (A Ring of Endless Light), and the American Book Award (A Swiftly Tilting Planet), among others. L'Engle herself has been awarded many personal honors as well, including 17 honorary doctorates. (Just by way of comparison, I still don't even have my first honorary doctorate.)

Here's a link to L'Engle's obituary in the New York Times, in case you're interested.


jeanie said...

Thank you Ms. Peevie for telling us about this amazing woman. Although I have not read anything but A Wrinkle in Time, (which I LOVED as a kid), I had heard that she was a prolific and thoughtful writer.

I have never thought of myself as a person with a lot of intellect, but I do have faith. So I like that quote. Any time I can help my self-esteem, well I am all about that!

Ms. Peevie, you could, and should write professionally, well I guess you kinda do, but I am waiting for "the BOOK!"

President of the Ms. Peevie fan club.

E. Peevie said...

Dear Fan,

I love you. I have Two-Part Invention if you ever want to borrow it. It's excellent.

And yes, that's an interesting quote about religiosity and intellect, isn't it? I'll have to put it on my list of dinner topics.