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Madeleine L'Engle: Once Upon a Lifetime

She was born Madeleine Camp in grand old New York City on November 29, 1918. Young Madeleine took her meals on a tray in her room with her beloved Nanny, in the English fashion. Often at night, her father and mother would go out to the theatre. Other times, the theatre and literary world would come to them. Madeleine's mother, a Southern belle, played the grand piano wonderfully, and the family apartment would be filled with music and friends.

Madeleine adored her father, but he was always ill, never the same after his lungs were damaged by gas attacks in the trenches of World War I. So the family sailed to Europe where they took up residence in a crumbling castle in the French Alps. The fireplace was big enough to roast an ox. The bath tub was like a cauldron, with a box for a blazing fire directly underneath. Talk about getting into hot water! Still and all, the family managed, but as her father grew more ill, 12-year-old Madeleine was sent off to boarding school.

Living away from her family was very trying for Madeleine at first. Everything was so structured, and there really wasn't any private time for daydreaming and writing. Madeleine and her family moved back to the U.S. in the 1930s. She attended a very proper girls' school in Charleston, South Carolina.

High school was much better. Back home, she was lovingly surrounded by her mother's extended family, and she continued to show her writing talent in classes. Madeleine was a tall young woman who rarely thought of herself as being beautiful. However, if she wasn't the belle of the debutante balls, at least she made some good lifelong friends.

Her father died when she was just 18 and soon to be heading for college. Unlike some mothers, Madeleine's did not cling to her child in her sadness. Instead, she let her follow her heart and her talent back to New York. Madeleine graduated with honors from Smith College and soon set up an apartment with friends in Greenwich Village. Madeleine did the cooking, the friends did the cleaning, and the beautiful grand piano was once again a place where friends gathered round.

She decided to write under the name L'Engle--a family name. Those early years of working on her writing at school paid off, and she was able to sell some stories, but there wasn't quite enough to live on. So Madeleine took a few little jobs in the theatre--understudy, director's assistant, and so on--to help pay the bills.

It was while she was in an off-Broadway production of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard that she met Hugh Franklin. She knew almost instantly that this handsome man with the startling blue eyes was the one she wanted to marry. And he felt likewise. Their first lunch at the automat lasted from mid-afternoon til midnight. They found such a lot to talk about--then and ever after.

They were visiting friends in Connecticut countryside when they stumbled across an old farm house. Two hundred years had taken quite a bit of the shine off of it, but not for Madeleine and Hugh. They named the place Crosswicks, for another family home, and got to work fixing it up, mostly with their own hands. For nine years, Hugh gave up a really promising career on Broadway to run the local country store with Madeleine. It was hard work and didn't pay very much, but it did give them enough to keep going while they raised their son and daughter together.

Crosswicks became a haven for their family and old friends. People who visited them for the first time talked of how they could sense the family's love for each other throughout the house. A couple of dozen people could sleep there at once and often did. Madeleine kept cooking and writing. Hugh eventually got a job as one of the lead characters in the new soap opera, All My Children. He would ride the train home to Crosswicks where he would be greeted joyfully by his family.

Meanwhile, Madeleine faced rejection slip after rejection slip for her book, A Wrinkle in Time. With its blend of spirituality, science, and truly dangerous situations, Wrinkle was not like any children's book the publishers had seen before. Finally, a publishing house did take a chance on it, simply because they loved it.

What a wonderful decision. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) was followed by other books for people young and not so young. More than 10 years later, A Wind in the Door brought the characters from A Wrinkle in Time back together, and they would have one more outing altogether as a group in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Recently A Wrinkle in Time was made into an award-winning film from the Disney Studios.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote more than 60 books. Some are poetry; some are biography; some are fantasy; some are religious. But in every one there is the warmth of Madeleine's enchanting storytelling.

Click here for all of Madeleine L'Engle's works for children and young adults that are owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Adults may enjoy her poetry as well as her very personal reminiscences in what has become known as the Crosswicks series: A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great Grandmother, The Irrational Season, and Two-Part Invention.

Madeleine died on September 6, 2007. A memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in November of the same year. Visit National Public Radio's Web site for their four-dimensional tribute to this beloved author.

Read More About Madeleine L'Engle on the Web:

Madeleine L'Engle
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_L'Engle A biography, overview bibliography, discussion of recurring characters, and excellent external links to more biography and literary criticism.

Madeleine L'Engle: Home
www.madeleinelengle.com/
Includes links to articles and audio interviews from NPR and other sources. Reference section has the text of her Newbery Award acceptance speech, a list of her honors, and links to additional articles and her speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award (American Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award For Writing In The Field Of Young Adult Literature).

Madeleine L'Engle: Quizzes and Trivia
www.funtrivia.com/ql.cfm?cat=7804
Test your knowledge of A Wrinkle in Time, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, A Wind in the Door, Troubling a Star, and A Ring of Endless Light.

Madeleine L'Engle Quotes
womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/madeleinelengle.htm Inspiring words for writers and other seekers of light.