Thursday, December 20, 2012

Madeleine L'Engle and I

Thanks to my son, Christopher, I have a last-minute addition to my Christmas wish list: Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voicesa collection of 50 or so interviews with the people who knew her most intimately.

Madeleine L'Engle (1918–2007) is perhaps best recognized as the author of A Wrinkle in Timethe incredible fantasy fiction that won her the 1963 John Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature almost 50 years ago. But she was also a memoirist, a writer of adult fiction and nonfiction, much of it spiritual in nature.




As a reviewer pointed out, Listening for Madeleine  is the closest you'll ever get to hanging out with Madeleine L'Engle.

But, in truth, I did have a relationship (of sorts) with this talented author.

In my late 20s and early 30s,Madeleine and her work were formative for me as a developing writer and first-time author.  I was a young mother with four children in grade school who dreamt about writing during any and all "free time" (sarcasm here). 

That's when I discovered a fellow sojourner in Madeleine's Crosswicks journals.

In her beautiful book Circle of Quiet, I got to "know" an award winning author who was also an honest, funny woman who struggled with her desire to intersperse her writing and teaching career with raising three children, not to mention maintaining an apartment in New York and a historical farmhouse called "Crosswicks." Is it wrong that I smiled when I read that she suffered a decade of rejections before her books was published?




I first met Madeleine L’Engle at a writers’ retreat that she led annually at Laity Lodge in Leakey, Texas. Wearing colorful clothing and wild, big earrings, she had a formidable, even intimidating, presence addressing our small group of artists. 

But she was also present to each person talking one-on-one, encouraging, and always smiling. Going on that retreat was transformational. It was also my Christmas present for two years combined, not so much because of the cost, but because it required me to be gone for five whole days, an eternity for the at-home parent holding the fort with our awesome foursome!

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Madeleine in New York City, just prior to the birth of Madeleine's first great- grandchild, Konstantinos John Voiklis. On November 29 of this year, that room where we met--the Diocesan House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side--was dedicated as a Literary Landmark, in honor of the nearly four decades that Madeleine wrote and worked in its library. 




At that interview, I was struck by her intensity and devotion to her craft. Madeleine was a surprisingly quiet person whose voice filled with passion when she reflected on subjects that she cared about deeply—writing, faith, relationships. 

I remember how she talked in short sentences and often paused before she spoke. 
“I know my best work is unself-conscious. When I’m really writing," Madeleine explained in a bedtime-story voice, "I’m listening, and I’m not in control. That’s when I finish and look back and say, ‘I wrote that?’”
Three links: