Wednesday, October 19, 2011

E.L. Konigsburg

The awesome woman for Wednesday, October 19, is Elaine Lobi Konigsburg (E.L. Konigsburg), b. February 10, 1930, U.S. children's author, probably best known for her novel "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" . She's the only author ever to win Newbery and take the runner-up prize as well in the same year.

Konigsburg was born in NYC but was reared in small towns in PA. She said of her upringing, "Growing up in a small town gives you two things: a sense of your place and a feeling of self-consciousness--self-consciousness about one's education and exposure, both of which tend to be limited. On the other hand, limited possibilities also means creating your own options. A small town allows you to grow in your own direction, without a bombardment of outside stimulation. You can get a sense of yourself in relation to yourself, not to a host of accomplished others."

WRT reading: "Reading was tolerated in my house, but it wasn't sanctioned like dusting furniture or baking cookies. My parents never minded what I read, but they did mind when (like before the dishes were done) and where (there was only one bathroom in our house)." Id.

Elaine was an excellent student and became the first member of her family to go to college. She had planned to work a year, study a year, work a year, etc., to pay for school, but one of her professors helped her get a scholarship. She majored in chemistry and loved the creative side of the subject, but she hated the lab work. She continued her studies, though, marrying and going to grad school, and eventually began teaching chemistry at a private girls' school, where she "began to suspect that chemistry was not my field. Not only did I always ask my students to light my Bunsen burner, having become match-shy, but I became more interested in what was going on inside them than what was going on inside the test tubes." Id.

She left the position before her son was born in 1955 and had two more kids within four years. The family moved to New York in 1962, and when her youngest child started school, she began to write. In secret!

Except for her family. When her kids would come home for lunch, she would read them what she had written and watch their expressions.

"I recognized that I wanted to write something that reflected their kind of growing up, something that addressed the problems that come about even though you don't have to worry if you wear out your shoes whether your parents can buy you a new pair, something that tackles the basic problems of who am I? What makes me the same as everyone else? What makes me different?" Id.
E. L. Konigsburg advises would-be writers: "Finish. The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish. Don't talk about doing it. Do it. Finish."