L'Engle, Madeleine (1918—)

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L'Engle, Madeleine (1918—)

American writer of the popular A Wrinkle in Time and "Crosswick journals." Name variations: Madeleine Camp, Madeleine Camp Franklin L'Engle. Pronunciation: Leng-el). Born Madeleine L'Engle Camp on November 28, 1918, in New York, New York; daughter of Charles Wadsworth Camp (a foreign correspondent and author) and Madeleine Barnett Camp (a pianist); educated at Smith College, B.A. (with honors), 1941; attended New School for Social Research, 1941–42; Columbia University, graduate study, 1960–61; married Hugh Franklin (an actor), on January 26, 1946 (died September 1986); children: Josephine Franklin Jones (who married Alan W. Jones); Maria Rooney; Bion Franklin.

Had active career in theater (1941–47); taught with Committee for Refugee Education during World War II; taught at St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's School, New York (1960–66); librarian and writer-in-residence, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York (1966—); was a member of the faculty at University of Indiana, Bloomington (summers 1965–66, 1971); was a writer-in-residence, Ohio State University, Columbus (1970), and University of Rochester, New York (1972); lecturer.

Awards, honors:

Newbery Medal from the American Library Association (1963), Hans Christian Andersen Award runner-up (1964), Sequoyah Children's Book Award from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (both 1965), all for A Wrinkle in Time; Book World's Spring Book Festival Honor Book, and one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year (both 1968), both for The Young Unicorns; Austrian State Literary Prize (1969), for The Moon by Night; University of Southern Mississippi Silver Medallion (1978) for "an outstanding contribution to the field of children's literature"; American Book Award for paperback fiction (1980) for A Swiftly Tilting Planet; Smith Medal (1980); Newbery Honor Book (1981) for A Ring of Endless Light; A Ring of Endless Light was selected one of New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age (1981), as was Camilla (1982); Sophie Award (1984); Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association (1984); A House Like a Lotus was exhibited at the Bologna International Children's Book Fair (1985); Adolescent Literature Assembly Award for Outstanding Contribution to Adolescent Literature from the National Council of Teachers of English (1986).

Selected writings:

The Small Rain: A Novel (Vanguard, 1945, also published as Prelude, Vanguard, 1968); Ilsa (Vanguard, 1946); And Both Were Young (Lothrop, 1949); Camilla Dickinson (Simon & Schuster, 1951); A Winter's Love (Lippincott, 1957); (illustrated by Inga) The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas: An Austin Family Story (Farrar, Straus, 1964); The Arm of the Starfish (Farrar, Straus, 1965); The Love Letters (Farrar, Straus, 1966); Lines Scribbled on an Envelope and Other Poems (Farrar, Straus, 1969); (illustrated by Symeon Shimin) Dance in the Desert (Farrar, Straus, 1969); Intergalactic P.S.3 (Children's Book Council, 1970); The Other Side of the Sun (Farrar, Straus, 1971); Dragons in the Waters (sequel to The Arm of the Starfish, Farrar, Straus, 1976); (editor with William B. Green) Spirit and Light: Essays in Historical Theology (Seabury, 1976); (poetry) The Weather of the Heart (Shaw, 1978); Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Shaw, 1980); A Severed Wasp (sequel to A Small Rain, Farrar, Straus, 1982); And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings (Shaw, 1983); A House Like a Lotus (sequel to The Arm of the Starfish, Farrar, Straus, 1984); A Stone for a Pillow: Journeys with Jacob (Shaw, 1986); Certain Women (1992); Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections (1996); A Live Coal in the Sea (Farrar, Straus, 1996).

"The Austin Family" series:

Meet the Austins (Vanguard, 1960); The Moon by Night (Farrar, Straus, 1963); The Young Unicorns (Farrar, Straus, 1968); A Ring of Endless Light (Farrar, Straus, 1980).

"Time Fantasy" series:

A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar, Straus, 1962); A Wind in the Door (Farrar, Straus, 1973); A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Farrar, Straus, 1978); Many Waters (Farrar, Straus, 1986).

"Crosswicks Journals" (autobiography):

A Circle of Quiet (Farrar, Straus, 1972); The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Farrar, Straus, 1974); The Irrational Season (Seabury, 1977); Two Part Invention (Farrar, Straus, 1988). Contributor of articles, stories and poems to periodicals, including McCall's, Christian Century, Commonweal, Christianity Today, and Mademoiselle.

Madeleine L'Engle was born Madeleine Camp in New York City in 1918, the only child of Charles Wadsworth Camp, a foreign correspondent, playwright and critic, and Madeleine Barnett Camp , a talented pianist. L'Engle's childhood was spent in a creative but isolated environment. Her mother, who was almost 40 when L'Engle was born, did not agree with Charles Camp's more proscribed notion of child-rearing. L'Engle experienced what she later called "a strict English childhood"; she was encouraged to write, draw and play the piano, but mixed little with other children.

Her father's ill health (he was "gassed in the trenches of France" during World War I, wrote L'Engle) resulted in a move to Switzerland when she was 12. Introspective, awkward and slightly lame, L'Engle was placed in a series of austere boarding schools, in which she found solace by withdrawing even further into her private imaginative world. She learned "to shut out the sound of the school and listen to the story or poem I was writing when I should have been doing schoolwork. The result of this early lesson in concentration is that I can write anywhere."

She returned to the United States to attend college, graduating from Smith with honors in 1941. Deciding to work in the theater, she assumed the family name of L'Engle, and took a job as secretary and touring actress for Eva Le Gallienne , but she gave up her stage career permanently after marrying actor Hugh Franklin in 1946. (Beginning in 1971, Hugh portrayed Dr. Charles Tyler, husband of Phoebe Tyler [Ruth Warwick ], on the television soap opera "All My Children" for many years.)

By the time of her marriage, L'Engle had already begun writing seriously. Her first published novel, The Small Rain (1945), drew on the loneliness of boarding-school life and spoke to the discipline needed—and comfort found—in an artistic life. While continuing to write adult books, L'Engle published And Both Were Young, her first children's book, in 1949. The 1950s, however, were largely unproductive creatively, as L'Engle suspended her writing career to raise her children and work on the renovation of their home in rural Connecticut, where they also ran a general store. "My love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict," she said. After a succession of rejection letters, she decided to renounce writing entirely on her 40th birthday in 1958. The decision was quickly reversed. "I had to write," L'Engle realized. "If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing."

Although her fortunes soon changed, L'Engle had some difficulty finding a publisher for her 1962 juvenile novel A Wrinkle in Time. Over 26 publishers rejected the book over a two-year period. Hard to pigeonhole as either science fiction or fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time was described to L'Engle as "too difficult for children." She admitted that it was "written in the terms of a modern world in which children know about brainwashing and the corruption of evil. It's based on Einstein's theories of relativity and Planck's quantum theory. It's good solid science, but also it's good, solid theology." A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, who must use time travel and ESP to rescue her scientist father from It, a disembodied brain on another planet; she must also learn the power of love in order to release him. Ruth Hill Viguers in A Critical History of Children's Literature calls it "a book that combines devices of fairy tales, overtones of fantasy, the philosophy of great lives, the visions of science, and the warmth of a good family story."

When her manuscript was finally accepted by Farrar, Straus, L'Engle was warned not to expect high sales. Defying all expectations, A Wrinkle in Time was a hit with the public, and won the Newbery Medal in 1963 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1965; it was also a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1964. Continuing both the characters of the book and its central theme of good versus evil, L'Engle wrote three further books in this "Time Fantasy" series. L'Engle's spiritual themes also found their way into her adult writing, from 1996's Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections to novels like 1992's Certain Women.

At the same time, L'Engle had begun work on a second series for young readers based around

the adventures of protagonist Vicky Austin, beginning with 1960's Meet the Austins. Subsequent books in the series, written between 1963 and 1987, are The Moon by Night, The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light and Troubling a Star.

In 1966, L'Engle became a librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The dark, tiny library contained row upon row of dusty volumes, a mahogany fireplace, and, generally, one or two of L'Engle's dogs. "I walk into that … room every and day and my heart just sings," she wrote. "It's a beautiful room with high ceilings and paneled walls and great bay windows which look across the Cathedral close to the Cathedral building itself. And there I am at my lovely desk which sort of puts me (no matter who I am) in the position of being somebody who's there and can be talked to. The first thing I did was to keep the teapot going so that people could have a cup of tea."

L'Engle did much of her writing there, including some of her Crosswick journals and her books that wrestled with the question of religious faith. She considers herself "a very rebellious Christian. I fight against the establishment constantly. I'm also involved in it. I infiltrate from within." During her prolific career, she has written three plays, numerous articles and stories, and several autobiographical pieces. Her Crosswick journals have an avid following. By the 1980s, L'Engle was one of the bestselling children's authors in the United States, and several of her juvenile books are now considered children's classics. Wrote L'Engle: "In a letter I received, a child asked me, 'How can I stay a child forever and never grow up?' And I replied, 'I don't think you can, and I don't think it would be a good idea if you could. What you can do, and what I hope you will do, is stay a child forever and grow up.'"


Garrett, Agnes, and Helga McCue. Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1989.

L'Engle, Madeleine, and Avery Brooke. Trailing Clouds of Glory. Westminster Press, 1985.

Newquist, Roy. Conversations. Rand McNally, 1967.

Rausen, Ruth. "An Interview with Madeleine L'Engle," in Children's Literature in Education 19. Winter 1975.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York