Friday, March 2, 2012

Author Stephanie Cowell Remembers Madeleine L’Engle

By Kim

Photo by Russell Clay
My ten-year-old daughter recently started reading A Wrinkle in Time for school. Part of her assignment is to write three times a week in a reader response journal. Creativity is encouraged, so I put a little bug in her ear. “You know,” I said to her, “A writer friend of mine knew Madeleine L’Engle well. I bet she could tell you some interesting things about her that you won’t read about in any book.”

My daughter’s face lit up. She loves the book and she also loves surprising her teacher with unexpected tweaks that turn an ordinary assignment into something special.

I told her about Stephanie Cowell, showed her my copy of Claude and Camille, and explained that Stephanie considers Madeleine her writing mentor in much the same way that I consider Stephanie mine. I’m not sure how much of that she got because she was too busy looking at the painting on the cover (hardcover version, not the image shown here). She loves art and knew all about the impressionists, including Claude Monet.

“I want to read this,” she said.

I bit my lip as I remembered a few beautifully sensual but firmly R-rated scenes. “In a few years,” I said.

Make that six years at least.

Stephanie kindly agreed to the interview, so my daughter and I brainstormed a few questions. The questions are hers and the answers are geared toward fifth graders, but I thought our readers might enjoy them. I share them here in honor of the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time’s publication.

When and where did you meet Madeleine L’Engle? 

I met Madeleine when I took a writing class she gave at a convent for nuns in New York City. She was very good friends with them. Twenty writers were accepted and there was a waiting list. I was lucky to get in. We all sat around a large oval table and she gave us things to write about.

Madeleine L'Engle - Square Fish Books
2) What was her personality like? Was she easy to talk to? 

She was easy to talk to; she was warm and funny and loved people. She believed the great artists of the world were enlightened beings and saints. She always talked about Saint Bach. Of course it took a little bit of time to get used to her because she was very tall and a little bit like a queen. She wore long dresses down to her feet with beautiful embroidery; she was nearly six feet tall and she had a very low voice.

Do you know what inspired her to write A Wrinkle in Time? 

Goodness, she has written about this in her books and I’ll try to remember. She was terribly interested in science then and the universe and time travel. There is a particular area of physics called quantum physics which talks about time and energy waves and matter (the stuff that makes up the universe and everything in it) and many complicated things. One of the many ideas was there were wrinkles in time in the universe where you could leap over a lot of distance or time at once. She combined this with her sense of God and that people should be themselves. She felt love was the most important thing in the world. Also…Madeleine lost her own father when she was eighteen years old. He had been sick a lot of her life and I think she would have liked to go back in time and rescue him and that went into the novel. But when she had finished the novel, no one would publish it. Twenty-six publishers refused it. The one who finally took it thought it wouldn’t sell. They said it was too complicated for children!

How did she help you with your writing?

She loved my writing and when I asked her if she would read my first novel, she said yes. Then she helped me find a publisher and sent me a huge bunch of flowers when I found one. I could always talk to her about writing. She was like a second mother to me.

What were her favorite things to do? 

She loved to play classical music on the piano and to travel and to teach and speak to people, and of course to write. She loved to go to church. She loved opera and ballet and reading and museums. If she lent you a book, you had to PROMISE to return it. And she loved to cook but never doing dishes! When she was young, she was an actress. Oh and she loved her dogs!

What was her house like? 

She had a house in the country and an apartment in the city. The apartment was a short walk from where I lived. It was on a high floor and you could see the sun set over the river from the windows. The rooms were very large and she had thousands of books and a grand piano and many old things which had been in her family for a long time. She had many pictures of her husband who was a famous actor. Her country house was an old farmhouse and there was a path by the side of the house where she used to walk up and down at night and ask God why she couldn’t sell A Wrinkle in Time.

If you want to learn more about the friendship between Madeleine and Stephanie, here is an article Stephanie wrote about the subject. Have you read A Wrinkle in Time? Tell us your thoughts!


  1. Beautiful....SSSSoooo personable.
    The true essence of a mentor.
    I felt like I was meeting a good friend.

    LOVED the visual of her dress and her home!
    What's your daughter's name?

    Thanks for sharing this heartfelt tribute!

    Betty Rozakis

  2. How wonderful. I loved this sweet interview, and I learned so much. Great job!

  3. Betty and Erika,

    I hadn't originally intended to turn my daughter's assignment into a post here, but it ended up being such a special thing to introduce her to my mentor (over the internet anyway.) Stephanie gave such wonderful answers, bringing in information about Madeleine that would not be read in a book anywhere. I had to ask her if I could share them here, and she was delighted to let me.

    I wish I could have met Madeleine. I'm sure she would have been a kindred spirit.

  4. Such a personal and informative interview. Great job, Sasha. Thanks for sharing, Kim. Loved your intro. "A Wrinkle in Time" sits within my pile of books to read. About to move it to the top of that stack:)

  5. Marion Roes02 March, 2012

    Thank you to you and to Sasha :) Great work for all the generations involved!

  6. This is wonderful, Kim. And timely too -- I'm reading A Wrinkle In Time with my daughter's book club. I'll have to share this with them.

  7. I never did read A Wrinkle in Time but will now. I think Mrs. L'Engle was ahead of her time!

  8. Betty Long02 March, 2012

    Wonderful post. So proud of Sasha! You are such an encourager of her talents and interests. Good job!

  9. Thank you for stopping by Marion and Betty!

    Liz, I think a lot of people are reading the book this year because of the 50th anniversary. I have not read it yet myself, but my daughter keeps putting it under my nose, so that will be the next book I read.

    Yes, Pamela, she did sound very ahead of her time. I wish I could have met her.

  10. What an awesome project, and a special memory! Both interviewer and interviewee did an amazing job. Good idea, Pamela, I think I should read it as well. Everyone has special memories of certain school projects, and I think this will be one of them for your daughter, Kim! Bravo!

  11. I hope so, Vaughn. I know I'll remember it forever.


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