• Happy birthday Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back ), David M. Schwartz (How Much Is a Million) and Maggie Stern (The Missing Sunflowers).
  • It’s the birth date of Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), Little Women.
  • In 1910 the first U.S. patent for traffic lights was issued. Read Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman.
  • It’s Square Dance Day. You’re never too old for Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton!

On November 29 we celebrate the birth date of one of America’s most beloved authors. Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918 and throughout her life faced many obstacles, including roughly twenty-seven rejections of the book that made her famous, A Wrinkle in Time. Her father was a troubled man—she frequently spoke of him in public as someone who had been gassed in the trenches during World War I. In fact his problems stemmed from alcoholism. She would also loose a son to that disease. And yet L’Engle endured these hardships and even triumphed by writing through her problems. An abiding religious faith led L’Engle to a position of Writer-in-Residence at the Cathedral of St. John’s the Divine in New York.

For those who want to understand this complex woman, Leonard S. Marcus has published a fascinating volume: Listening for Madeleine. Marcus interviews more than fifty people and gives each one a chapter in the book as he explores the many facets of L’Engle’s personality. Some people give testimony about Madeleine as a young woman; others talk about her professional life; and family members provide a more intimate portrait. Although no single interview can be used to depict L’Engle, when the pieces are read together they reveal a  fascinating, often contradictory, personality. Genealogical researchers are often told to find enough material so that they could go up to an ancestor and shake hands with them. At the end of this book, readers will feel they could recognize L’Engle because she emerges as a real flesh-and-blood figure.

The art of interviewing is often unappreciated. Hours of interview taping can lead to only one or two pages in a final book. Material needs to be arranged and rearranged. Leonard Marcus has always been brilliant in this format, and he is at his best in this book. Leonard uses his own questions sparingly, only to provide transitions with the material he needs.

Everyone will, no doubt, have a favorite section of the book. I first read the part on L’Engle as writer. Other writers, such as Judy Blume, testify to L’Engle’s crusade for First Amendment rights. Publishing insiders—James Cross Giblin, George Nicholson, Patricia Lee Gauch, Bridgit Marmion, Sandra Jordan, Beverly Horowitz, Neal Porter, and Stephen Roxburg—give a sense of L’Engle as a professional writer.

Anyone who has been celebrating the 50th Anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time  this year will want to pick up this volume. It is the next best thing to having dinner with Madeleine L’Engle herself.

Here’s a section from Leonard Marcus’s introduction to Listening for Madeleine:

For L’Engle herself, winning the Newbery Medal proved to be a liberating experience on several accounts. It gave her the professional validation she had been hungering for throughout the years of self-imposed exile in Goshen. It cemented her relationship with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a distinguished literary house where she would have the freedom to experiment across genres and readerships. It substantially boosted both her current income and her long-term financial prospects, and as invitations to speak at library conventions and schools all around the country began to pour in, it gave her a new platform from which to perform in public and a whole new world of librarian and educator friends.

Originally posted November 29, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Family, New York, Newbery, Women
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Listening for Madeleine


  1. Chris says:

    I believe today is Jon Klassen’s birthday too.

  2. Anita says:

    Chris: Yes, thanks for reminding me. I’ll add him in.

  3. McCourt says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I had not heard of this book before and it sounds like a fascinating read about an author I’ve always admired. I’ll definitely look it up!

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