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Author Madeleine L'Engle ’41 Dies at 88

Award-winning author and Smith alumna Madeleine L’Engle Camp ’41 died Thursday, September 6, at the age of 88.

L’Engle began writing at age 5 and by the time she received an honorary degree from Smith in 1986, she had written 25 highly acclaimed books, including the one for which she is best known, A Wrinkle in Time.

That sucess was not always easily attained, something L’Engle later reflected upon in a biography she submitted to the college. At the time of her graduation with a degree in English, L’Engle said, “I left Smith assuming that all doors were open to me. That’s a useful attitude for opening the occasional closed one.”

That metaphor was certainly true in the case of A Wrinkle in Time, which was rejected by 26 publishers before it was accepted by the editors at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The book went on to win the John Newberry Medal as the best children’s book of 1963 and has, so far, sold more than eight million copies.

Former President Mary Maples Dunn referenced A Wrinkle in Time when she granted L’Engle the honorary degree Doctor of Letters, saying, “You knew what skeptical editors did not: that children and adults alike would understand your blend of science and fiction and treasure your writings about the interconnectedness of all creation.”

Earlier in L’Engle’s career, in 1977, she delivered the commencement address at Smith, telling seniors, “You will not heal all the ills of the world, but you can show in your own living and loving . . . that the whole of you is made up of both intellect and intuition, mind and heart.”

She returned to her alma mater on several other occasions including in 1981, to receive the Smith College Medal, and in 1988 and 1994, to deliver lectures.

When L’Engle visited campus in 1997 for the alumna-in-residence program, students surprised her with a birthday cake, having learned that the visit coincided with the date. That program provided students the opportunity to meet and talk with L’Engle about her career and life choices, such information she also shared in her alumna record.

In her record, she noted the “major turning points in her adult life” were working as an actress in a theater in New York, where she met and married actor Hugh Franklin. Then, she added,  “having children with all the conflicts that come to the mother who also works” and “a long decade of rejection slips after five published books.”

Perhaps the most recent Smith news concerning L’Engle was in 1999, when English faculty member Patricia Skarda included her work in a publication of literary selections by Smith alumnae titled Smith Voices.

But L’Engle’s alma mater would not be the final home for papers that reveal her voice—those are in the L’Engle Collection at Wheaton College. About her decision to donate her papers to another college, L’Engle once noted, “Smith asked ten years too late.”—Kristen Cole

Alumnae Association Remembers L'Engle

L'Engle's Obituary in the New York Times.

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