I know, I’m late to this memorial, and stalling, because I already know anything I say today will be inadequate. I lost two great writer/teachers this month and I’m wrung out. But this belongs on Murderati.
From Publishers Weekly, 9/7/2007
Children’s book author Madeleine L’Engle died on Thursday, September 6, in Litchfield, Conn. She was 88.
Over the course of six decades, L’Engle authored over 60 books for adults and children, which often melded elements of science, religion and fantasy and have been treasured by generations of readers.
L’Engle published several novels before her best-known work, A Wrinkle in Time, which won the 1963 Newbery Award. But it was that book and its sequels about the Murry family that earned her widespread acclaim, along with another series that began with her 1960 book, Meet the Austins. Holtzbrinck’s Square Fish imprint reissued two new editions of the Time Quintet, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters and An Acceptable Time this past spring. A forthcoming young adult book from L’Engle, The Joys of Love, is scheduled for spring 2008 publication, from L’Engle’s longtime publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
L’Engle was born on November 29, 1918 in New York City. She attended Smith College, and went on to marry actor Hugh Franklin. She volunteered as a librarian and served as a writer-in-residence for many years at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Along with her husband, she founded the Crosswicks Foundation, Ltd., which has given money to community and arts organizations in New York and Connecticut for over 20 years. She is survived by two daughters, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
When people ask me why I write what I do, or even just why I write, instead of rambling on I could just as well just say A WRINKLE IN TIME. A surreal number of my female author and screenwriter friends, and a good number of the men as well, have said the same thing to me over the years. I could win a fair amount of money if someone would pay me a dollar to guess every regular Rati reader and writer who would make the same claim – in fact, I suspect just about every woman genre writer who came of age pre-Harry Potter. Meg Murry wasn’t just our Hermione – she was our Harry Potter. She is every smart girl who ever lived.
I’ve read just about everything L’Engle ever wrote. Once in a while I realize I’ve missed something and it’s always a huge treat to add that book to my shelf. She was a huge part of my extremely random spiritual education… I was raised with both no religion and a smattering of a large number of religions, but once I was in college and away from any friends who would drag me along to church or temple when I spent the night, I developed my own ritual. When I was down, or lost, I would find myself heading to a bookstore on Telegraph Ave. called Logos. It took me about two years to realize it was a Christian bookshop – it was pure Berkeley. It had crystals in the windows and rainbows on the walls and was just – light. And peace. And it had every Madeleine L’Engle book yet published, all in the same section, and I’d go and stay and read there until I felt better and then I’d buy the book to take with me and go on, comforted.
But her equally profound influence on me (it’s inseparable, really) was as a genre writer. I always gravitated toward the spooky, the thrilling, the fantastical, the twisted, in my reading. I discovered A WRINKLE IN TIME when I was in sixth grade and something in my mind said – “THIS is what a book is supposed to be, do, feel like.” I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything ever since (except, um, HAMLET) that feels as perfect in every way – character, theme, structure, dialogue, action, spectacle, catharsis – every single layer and detail.
I’ve read it hundreds and hundreds of times and I learn something new about how to tell a story every single pass. And not just about the how of it, but the WHY as well. It makes no sense on the surface to write as dark as I do and say that I aspire to the spirituality of that book, but it’s true.
As L’Engle said:
“Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”
I am grateful for every word L’Engle ever wrote. There are other books of hers that shaped me as a writer, an author, a genre writer. She wrote thrillers – ARM OF THE STARFISH is a wonderful YA spy thriller, again with a profound spiritual dimension, and even her dramas have such an thriller edge – I’m thinking specifically of A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT – that I’d almost call them cross-genre. She put urgency and cosmic stakes into everything she ever put on paper.
But A WRINKLE IN TIME is a masterwork… and I guess it’s always in the back of my mind, the question – will I ever be open enough, focused enough, skilled enough, mature enough… enough anything – to write something that is everything I could write, in a perfect world?
I don’t know. But at least I have a light to guide me on that path.
To make up for everything I would like to say and haven’t, here is a constantly updating roundup of the coverage on L’Engle.
I hope others here will share L’Engle stories, and maybe thoughts on other authors’ masterworks.
In eternal gratitude.