White, Nelia Gardner

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WHITE, Nelia Gardner

Born 1 November 1894, Andrews Settlement, Pennsylvania; died 12 June 1957, New Hartford, Connecticut

Daughter of John A. and Anna Jones Gardner; married Ralph L. White, 1917; children: two

Nelia Gardner White, one of five children of a Methodist minister, lived in several small towns as she was growing up. Though the family had very little money, the atmosphere of the home was happy; life was filled with "books, friends, and fun." By taking many different sorts of jobs, White was able to attend Syracuse University for two years (1911-13) and the Emma Willard Kindergarten School (1913-15). After several years as a kindergarten teacher, she married a lawyer. The couple had two children.

During World War II, as a guest of the British Ministry of Information, White wrote articles about England. In 1948 she won the $8,000 prize in the Westminster Press Fiction Contest with her novel No Trumpet Before Him. White gives great credit for her start as a writer to Maude Stewart, a teacher in the kindergarten school who helped her toward an understanding of human character and of the various relationships between people. White contributed articles about child care to a kindergarten magazine. She began writing fiction with stories for kindergarten children and four novels for young people and then branched out to adult fiction. The rest of her life is a record of much industry and a great deal of success. Hundreds of her stories appeared in such popular magazines as the American, Ladies' Home Journal, People's Home Journal, Midland, McCall's, Pictorial Review, Forum, and Good Housekeeping. In addition, she wrote 25 novels.

Her fiction is notable for a clear and compassionate delineation of human characters and a smooth, almost poetic style. In her early writing, she frequently exhibits a facile sentimentality; later she was able to control this, so it could enhance rather than mar her narrative. Though all her life she used rural and smalltown settings and characters, near the very end she portrayed a few more sophisticated men and women against a city background. While certainly not "high brow," her fiction is not to be classed as "slick" or "light." According to one critic, her last novel, The Gift and the Giver, published the year of her death (1957), is "perhaps her most penetrating and at times disturbing book." Another critic wrote, "None of Mrs. White's prize winning novels has the brutal realism and the compassionate power of truth that The Gift and the Giver evokes."

Thus White's art grew and developed throughout the years, always illustrating her personal theory about writing. One must have discipline, she said, and "discipline comes through failure, through writing thousands of words and using only a hundred of them, through filling the mind with great literature, through stretching the imagination to the utmost, through forgetting markets and concentrating on the immediate work. A surface cleverness is not enough."

Other Works:

Mary (1925). Marge (1926). And Michael (1927). Jen Culliton (1927). David Strange (1928). Joanna Gray (1928). Kristin (1929). Tune in the Tree (1929). Toni of Grand Isle (1930). Hathaway House (1931). Mrs. Green's Daughter-In-Law (1932). This, My House (1933). Family Affairs (1934). The Fields of Gomorrah (1935). The Heaths and the Hubbells (1937). Daughter of Time (1941). Brook Willow (1944). The Pink House (1950). Woman At the Window (1951). The Merry Month of May (1952). The Spare Room (1954). The Thorn Tree (1955). A Little More Than Kin (1956).

Bibliography:

KR (15 July 1957). NYHTB (19 Aug. 1956). WLB (Nov. 1950). Writer (Sept. 1955).

—ABIGAIL ANN HlAMBLEN