Madeleine L’Engle: What I learned from this Great American Author

I really didn’t know who Madeleine L’Engle was when I took a class with her; that she had published about 50 books at the time, and that her classic “A Wrinkle in Time” had won the prestigious Newbury Award Medal. She was one of the most popular American writers of her era.

After the class was completed, she read some more of my stories, and wrote me notes back a few times. I didn’t realize what an honor it was to get a note from her inviting me to her apartment for a small gathering. And it arrived in an envelope of her prestigious publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and the same name was printed on the letterhead.

I didn’t realize that from our little talk and few correspondences, I would learn such an important lesson.

I see her face clear as day when I recall what she told me. “You’re a good writer, but you need to give your protagonist more redeeming qualities.” Coming from her, I took it to heart.

In other words, the reader must develop a bond with the main character. He (she) must find the character endearing and fascinating. (Of course there may be an exception here and there.) I think when I began writing seriously after college, I was plenty sarcastic and cynical about people. This could be okay, but not for the main character. Many people have trouble expressing affection directly and it can be a challenge to do so, as it was for me, but writers can develop this ability.

How many times have I read the work of people working on their first books and stories, and have thought, “The story is pretty good, but I really don’t like the main character all the much.” Why do I want to read about someone I don’t care for?

As for me, over the years I have been able to create poems and characters people can find affection for, and you know what, it really feels good!
Madeleine was the writer-in-residence at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and I am also a church-goer, so I think it helped me that we had this in common. You never know what will help one meet someone special. Thanks Madeleine. I’ll never forget the lesson.

1 response on Madeleine L’Engle: What I learned from this Great American Author

  1. I think it’s a wonderful acknowledgement to get critiqued by a brilliant writer. Your poems are journeys crammed with interesting characters and witty insights into nature and behavior.

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