Friday, September 14, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle in star light

Madeleine L'Engle
November 29, 1918 - September 6, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, well known children's author, died on September 6th.

The latest Publisher's Weekly children's newsletter "children's bookshelf" has a tribute to her. Here are some memories, written by people who knew her and worked with her:

Margaret Ferguson from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Ms. L'Engle's publisher for 45 years:

Madeleine enjoyed having lunch at the Terrace and would begin with a Bloody Mary. We would sit near a window with an amazing view of the Upper West Side and have a wonderful time, mostly because she always had a good joke and was such an entertaining storyteller. She was a very loving person—accepting and open to different kinds of people and experiences. Above all, though, Madeleine was kind. She always remembered to follow up on some detail about my life, which was amazing considering how large her “extended” family was. She was exactly who she seemed to be in person and in her writing. We will all miss her.

Sandra Jordan, editor of two of her books:
I edited two of Madeleine’s books—A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Ring of Endless Light. As the books progressed I’d be invited to spend the weekend with Madeleine and Hugh at Crosswicks, their pre-Revolutionary War house in Goshen, Connecticut. We’d work in her “tower,” a book-filled study, up a narrow back hall staircase, until she decided “we need some fresh air.”

The back hall coat rack offered a battered selection of hats, scarves, and coats, and the two of us, bundled up like Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, set out across the fields behind the house. She carried giant pruning shears to attack encroaching bittersweet vines and she’d gesture with them as we passed the property’s familiar literary landmarks—the twins’ vegetable garden where Charles Wallace met the dragon, the stone wall where the snake Louise the Larger lived, Meg’s star-watching rock—all of which figured in her books. We’d rattle on about pre-Roman English history, our families, 17th-century poetry, the Old Testament, and what makes bad boys irresistible. It felt like a break from working, but when the next draft arrived I’d see that she’d also been trying out new material. Like the good cook she also proved to be on those weekends, she wasted nothing, everything went into the pot. I feel lucky to have worked with her, lucky to have known her.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis, granddaughter:

I lived with her during my college and graduate school years in New York... What stands out most vividly for me about that time are her stamina, discipline, and generosity. A true extrovert who drew energy from her interactions with others, she kept what seemed to me an exhausting travel and lecture schedule. And she wrote 15 books during that 10-year period! When she was home, we threw inter-generational dinner parties (though she kept a strict schedule and always retired at 9 for her evening rituals of bath, bible, and bed) and had heated conversations about books and ideas.

Read more tributes here.

Madeleine L'Engle was also an accomplished poet. I bought her book The Weather of the Heart long, long ago (26 plus years ago, because it has my maiden name in it).

Here's a poem from the book. (She might be doing this right now!)

Star Light

after death
the strange timelessness, matterlessness,
absolute differentness
of eternity
will be shot through
like a starry night
with islands of familiar and beautiful

For I should like
to spend a star
sitting beside Grandpapa Bach
at the organ, learning, at last, to play
the C minor fugue as he, essentially,
heard it burst into creation;

and another star
of moor and mist, and through the shadows
the cold muzzle of the dog against my hand,
and walk with Emily. We would not need to
talk, nor ever go back to the damp of
Haworth parsonage for tea.

I should like to eat a golden meal
with my brothers Gregory and Basil,
and my sister Macrina. We would raise
our voices and laugh and be a little drunk
with love and joy.

I would like a theatre star,
and Will yelling, "No! No! that's not
how I wrote it! but perhaps it's better
that way; "to be or not to be:' All
right, then! let it stand!"

And I should like
another table
-- Yes, Plato, please come, and you too,
Socrates, for this is the essential table
of which all other tables are only
flickering shadows on the wall.
This is the heavenly banquet,
(Oh come!)
the eternal convivium

The sky blazes with stars!

- Madeleine L'Engle from The Weather of the Heart Harold Shaw Publishers, © 1978

Bonus: Check out these Madeleine L'Engle quotes.