Today I would lobby hard that the church remember one of its premier contemporary storytellers: Madeleine L’Engle, Writer, Dreamer, and Master of Imagination.
Born in New York City in late 1918, Madeleine L’Engle Camp (she would eventually drop the Camp) was born to a pianist mother and a writer father, and took up her own writing discipline at the young age of eight. She was known as an awkward and shy child, and did poorly in school mostly due to her inability to assimilate. Because of her poor marks, her parents moved her around from school to school (and even physically moved, themselves) in an attempt to find the right fit for their family. Due to her social dis-ease, Madeleine found her home within the pages of the books that brought her comfort and friendship.
Madeleine graduated from Smith College and moved back to New York City to live as a writer and stage performer. She published her first two novels there, married actor Hugh Franklin, and birthed their first child, Josephine. Desiring a change of pace, the young family moved to Connecticut and became merchants of a small general store there as their family grew to add a son Bion and an adopted daughter, Maria.
It should be noted that even though she was writing this whole time, Madeleine had very little success getting her work published.
Because money was tight, the family moved back to New York City in 1959 so that Hugh could resume his acting career, and by 1960 L’Engle had finally finished what would become her seminal work: A Wrinkle in Time.
It was rejected by 30 publishers before finally being picked up.
I’ll say that again for those in the back who fear that their work is no good: A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 30 times before being published. It would go on to win the Newberry Medal for Junior Fiction in 1962.
Madeleine would continue to give herself away for those she loved even after having attained international literary success. She taught at a local school, volunteered at a local library, and was very active in her Episcopalian parish where she not only served with the community but also accepted a few writer-in-residence opportunities. All the while she continued to write for audiences young and old, both in fiction and memoir form, tantalizing the imagination of so many in this world.
L’Engle understood that fantasy is the language we use to tell truths that are just too hard or deep to understand through common symbolism. Fantasy is not an escape from , but an invitation deeply into, the heart of reality.
Children get this. Adults…not so much.
Madeleine was a convinced Christo-centric Universalist, claiming that no God could “punish people forever.” She said she could not do that as a parent, nor wish it upon her children, so how could a loving God do so with their own creation?
After a lifetime of writing, speaking, and creating for humanity, Madeleine L’Engle slowly slowed her pace and died on this day in 2007. She remains a beloved author by so many and an ever-present voice of challenge to humanity. In a world obsessed with “did it actually happen?” L’Engle reminds us that a much more important and interesting question is, “It doesn’t matter if it happened, does it happen?”
Madeleine L’Engle is a reminder for me, and should be for the church (and indeed the whole world), that fantasy tells deep truths, and perhaps religion would do well to not only acknowledge that fact, but lean into a bit.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits gleaned from public sources
-icon written by Jenny Kroik
My favorite book of all time is L’Engle’s “A Severed Wasp,” which I have read at least once a year each year for the last, like, 20 years running. Thanks for this commemoration.