Madeleine L’Engle: A Groovy Writer
Madeleine L'Engle reads with her granddaughters, Charlotte and Lena, in 1976. Crosswicks Ltd./McIntosh
While the Groovy era is widely known for launching the careers of numerous actors and musicians, the number of writers who achieved success during this time is often overlooked. One of these writers was Madeleine L’Engle, whose most well-known work, a science fantasy novel called A Wrinkle in Time, was published in 1962. This novel would spawn multiple sequels, as well as a made-for-television film adaption in 2003 and a major motion picture in 2018, both of which were produced by Disney production companies.
L’Engle was born in New York City, on November 29, 1918, the only child of Charles Wadsworth Camp, a writer, and Madeleine Barnett, a pianist. Her father was a former reporter who had to leave his job due to health problems resulting from exposure to mustard gas during his military service in World War I. He instead used his writing abilities to create short stories, movies, and plays. L’Engle’s creative parents encouraged her artistic endeavors and she wrote her first story at five years of age. Her interest in writing continued as she got older and she won a poetry contest in the fifth grade. The poem was so well-written that her teacher didn’t believe she had written it until her mother brought in samples of her other writing to prove it. The next year, L’Engle was moved to a new school with a teacher who was less inclined to doubt her abilities.
In 1930, the family moved to Switzerland due to Charles Camp’s declining health. L’Engle was enrolled in Chatelard, an all-girls’ boarding school in Montreaux, Switzerland. There she and a friend experimented with the effect of poppies on their dreams. The family returned to the United States two years later when L’Engle’s grandmother fell ill and L’Engle was sent to Ashley Hall Boarding School in South Carolina. While there, she served as the student council president and became involved in theater. Her father died in October of 1936 while she was away at school. She graduated from Ashley Hall in June of 1937 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English from Smith College in 1941, where she graduated with honors.
After college, she moved to New York City, where she worked in theater, both as an actress and a writer. She had several of her plays performed and, in 1945, published her first novel, The Small Rain, which was inspired by her experiences in boarding school.
At this time, she also met actor Hugh Franklin and the two got married in Chicago, Illinois, on January 26, 1946. Their daughter, Josephine, was born in June of 1947. She published her first book for young readers, And Both Were Young, in 1949, while her family alternated between spending summers in their Connecticut home and winters in New York. Franklin was often away from home due to his acting career. After their son, Bion was born on March 24, 1952, they bought a general store which the couple ran together while L’Engle struggled with her writing career. In 1956, they adopted Maria, the seven-year-old daughter of their recently deceased friend.
L’Engle eventually got back into writing and published A Winter’s Love in 1957. This was followed a few years later with her most successful work up to that point, a children’s book entitled Meet the Austins, which was published in 1960. The novel, inspired by L’Engle’s own family, tells the story of a family who adopts a recently orphaned young girl. The novel made the list of the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s books of 1960 and was renowned for its handling of the topic of death. It spawned multiple sequels including The Moon by Night (1963), The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story (1964), The Young Unicorns (1968), and A Ring of Endless Light (1980).
She also wrote several works exploring religion, including Sold Into Egypt: Joseph’s Journey into Human Being (1989) and Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections (1996). In 2002, she published the inspirational Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth and in 2005, a poetry collection entitled Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle.
But it was her work, A Wrinkle in Time, for which she would receive the most attention. The idea for this story – which follows a brother and sister who embark on a journey through time and space to rescue their father – came to L’Engle while on a camping trip with her family. The book was rejected twenty-six times before being published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1962. It won several honors, including the Newberry Medal, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and the American Library Associations’ Notable Book Award. The book inspired several sequels, including A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), Many Waters (1986), and An Acceptable Time (1989). L’Engle also wrote a related series which included the titles The Arm of the Starfish (1965), Dragons in the Waters (1976), and A House Like a Lotus (1984).
While being a successful fiction writer, L’Engle also wrote poetry and nonfiction. After her husband passed in 1986, she wrote Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, a story about their life together, published in 1988. She completed more than sixty works before her death on September 6, 2007, with a final one entitled The Joys of Love coming out posthumously in 2008.
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