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A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices

by Leonard S. Marcus

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-29897-5
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A multifaceted portrait of the complicated writer who won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time.

Timed as part of the publisher's 50th-anniversary celebration of the beloved classic (an observance that also includes a graphic-novel treatment by Hope Larson and the inevitable commemorative reissue), this collection brings more than 50 voices to bear on the life and career of Madeleine L'Engle (1918–2007). Children's-literature scholar Marcus (Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations with 21 of the World's Most Celebrated Illustrators, 2012, etc.) approached the project with a curator's eye, seeking out interview subjects who knew L'Engle in an impressive range of roles. He has arranged their remarks thoughtfully, in sections that cover L'Engle as a child and youth, writer, matriarch, mentor, friend and icon. Readers most familiar with her work for children will discover L'Engle the Anglican mystic, and vice versa. Marcus is an unobtrusive interrogator; in many cases, he elides his questions altogether, allowing his interlocutors to speak fluidly and directly. Though their relationships with L'Engle were varied, common threads emerge. An actor by training, L'Engle consciously constructed her own public persona, transforming her biography and history into "mythic material," as with the ever-expanding number of rejections she received for A Wrinkle in Time. Generous with the public ("Fame fit her like a glove," remarks Stephen Roxburgh, one of her editors), her personal life was not so easy—only one of her two surviving children chose to participate. Many of the interviewees directly respond to Cynthia Zarin’s controversial 2004 profile in the New Yorker (including Zarin), though few try to refute it. Other contributors include Judy Blume, Jane Yolen, T.A. Barron, Thomas Cahill and Wendy Lamb.

Though readers may not understand L'Engle the human being any better than they did before, they will certainly come away with a greater appreciation for the way she grappled with her life and wrestled it into narrative.