Paula Fox: Creativity Drawn from Conflict

Award-winning author Paula Fox had an extremely unusual childhood. Given away by her parents at birth, she spent the first few years of her life in a small town on the Hudson River. Her guardian, a poor minister, was a bachelor who looked after his very ill mother. He was a kind and cultured man who taught her to read and encouraged her to grow. But this pleasant time wasn’t to last.

After a few years, her parents changed their minds, the first of many times they were to do so. Before she was officially an adult, she had been in the middle of a Cuban revolution--her grandmother had taken her to live on a plantation there. She also survived a major earthquake in California, scrambled to get by in the boroughs of New York, and lived at Canadian boarding school where her father rarely paid the bills.The Slave Dancer

All of this instability had consequences for Paula. A gifted writer, she worked in Europe after World War II mixing with people whose lives had been turned upside down during the war, young and old. After returning to America, she spent some time working as a teacher and tutor with troubled children.

Her books for adults garnered much attention for their literary quality, but she is very much known for her writings for young people.  Her personal understanding of loneliness and how children try to make sense of the world that is forced upon them is set down with a clear and brave voice.

Two Books Not to Miss

The Slave Dancer, a Newbery Medal-winner, tells the story of boy named Jessie Bollier who lives in antebellum New Orleans. While going to borrow candles for his seamstress mother, he is kidnapped and forced to serve aboard a slaving ship bound for Africa. Once the Moonlight receives its human cargo, the real misery begins. To keep the enslaved in good physical shape for their sale in America, Jessie is expected to play them lively tunes as they “dance” on deck. He does this very unwillingly but he does it, knowing that the captain can and has killed people who have disobeyed him. The Slave Dancer is an exciting yet somber story which never misses an emotional beat.

One-Eyed Cat, a Newbery Honor-winner, is at face value a much simpler story that takes place in a quiet village on the Hudson River, very much like the one that was Paula’s refuge as a little girl. Indeed, Ned’s patient father is extremely similar to her real-life guardian Mr. Corning, and all is very peaceful in his life until the night he sneaks out with an air rifle, a birthday gift his father has put away in the attic. He sees a flash of movement low in the shadows, takes a shot, and changes his innocent world view forever. One-Eyed Cat is far less about the cat, who is feral and every inch a survivor, than it is about the boy’s coping in a quiet, brave and angry way with what he has done and whom he has become.

CRRL has available numerous books for children and teens by Paula Fox, many of them in eBook format.

Fast Facts

One Eyed CatBorn: April 22, 1923, in New York, NY; daughter of Paul Hervey (a writer) and Elsie (a screenwriter) Fox; briefly married Howard Bird (divorced); married Richard Sigerson, 1948 (divorced, 1954); married Martin Greenberg, June 9, 1962; children: Linda (put up for adoption); (second marriage) Adam, Gabriel.

Education: Attended Columbia University, 1955-58.

First Book: Maurice’s Room (1966)

Memberships: PEN, Authors League of America, Authors Guild.

Addresses: Home: New York, NY. Agent: Robert Lescher, 155 E. 71st St., New York, NY 10021.

Selected Awards: National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, 1972; Guggenheim fellowship, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1974; Newbery Medal, American Library Association, 1974, for The Slave Dancer; Hans Christian Andersen Medal, 1978; Child Study Children's Book Award from the Bank Street College of Education and one of New York Times's Notable Books, both 1984, Christopher Award and Newbery Honor Book, both 1985, and International Board on Books for Young People Honor List for Writing, 1986, all for One-Eyed Cat; Brandeis Fiction Citation, 1984; Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1984; Silver Medallion, University of Southern Mississippi, 1987; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for fiction and Newbery Honor Book, 1989, for The Village by the Sea.

Learn More about This Author:

These sources are available online through the CRRL’s Research collection:

"Paula Fox." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Biography in Context

"Paula Fox." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Biography in Context.

"Paula Fox interview: the novelist talks of her turbulent life; Hailed as the greatest writer of her generation -- by Jonathan Franzen, no less -- Paula Fox has had a life as gripping as any of her novels. She speaks to Nigel Farndale." Telegraph Online 15 Apr. 2013. Biography in Context

Also Online:

For Teachers:

The Slave Dancer: Lesson Plans, Teaching Guides & More

The following articles are for mature readers and discuss both her adult and children’s books as well as her difficult life.

“Paula Fox, The Art of Fiction No. 181, Interviewed by Oliver Broud” (check title)

“A Qualified Optimist”

Those wishing to learn more about Paula Fox may care to read her autobiographies written for adults — Borrowed Finery: A Memoir and The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe.