Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle, way more than a children’s writer, has died

Madeleine L’Engle, born November 29th, 1918, has died at the age of 88.

"Children's Writer Is Dead" said the New York Times, and yes, she wrote books that children loved. But... when my oldest son received the trilogy beginning with a Wrinkle In Time, he read the first book and immediately handed it over to me. "Read this" he said. "You'll love it!" I read it and then bugged him to death to hurry up and finish the next one so I could have it.

Even more than a wonderful story teller, she was a marvelous teacher. She gave writing workshops around the country for many years. I met her through a friend at church, after I'd been living in New York for a few years. My friend had been taking her annual workshop at the Community of the Holy Spirit (does anyone else see a divine pattern in this fact?) for a couple of years herself, and she helped me apply for the six-week course.

Madeleine was an Associate of the community. She donated the organ that sits in our chapel, and she gave the proceeds from the workshops as a donation to the sisters' work and ministry. The evenings began with vespers in the chapel, followed by dinner (with the sisters) in the refectory, and then the class met in the conference room on the second floor. I attended those workshops for three years in a row, until hip (or knee) surgery interrupted her last class. She never taught at the convent again.

She gave us imaginative assignments, practical advice, and gracious constructive critiques. We had most of the week to think about the topic... not write a word. Once we'd thought it through (several times) we were to sit down and write... nonstop for half an hour. Nonstop was the key to no more thinking. Amazingly most of my stories actually had a beginning, a middle and an end, although I wasn't always sure where or what the ending would be. Often the story wrote itself. All I did was hold the pen and keep shifting the pages.

I cherish the memories of those sessions more than any learning experience I've had. I've taken other writing classes which were okay... hers were full of her heart, her wit, her funny stories, and her excellent advice. What a blessing she was in her time on this Earth.


Cathy said...

She was a wonderful writer. I need to read her children's books as I have only read the ones she has targeted for adults.

It's like losing a friend.

Anonymous said...

How neat that you knew her and experienced her personality in such a concrete way. Thanks for sharing that story!

Marcia H said...

I was touched by your comments, and thrilled to learn you sat alongside M.l'Engle and received her gifts. I reread Wrinkle and passed it on to my now adult daughter and son for their second readings in 2006.

She dared describe both mystery and the mundane, and wonder. Love how her reach into the cosmos touched both you, her readers and the truth. She never wrote of a conflict between faith and science. . . but how one expanded the other.