Saturday, September 08, 2007

"A Wonderful Neighbor, A Wonderful Person, and a Model of Social and Personal Grace"

When John Podhoretz was a child, a very famous writer lived in a neighboring apartment: Madeleine L'Engle. If you loved "A Wrinkle in Time," or any of L'Engle's books, as much as I did, do yourself a favor and read Podhoretz's appreciation. It is simply enchanting:

You know her as the author of A Wrinkle in Time — possibly the best and most memorable young person's novel written in the United States since World War II. If you're lucky, you read or sampled a dozen or more of the 60-odd books she wrote for children and adults before passing away on Thursday at the age of 88.

Madeleine L'Engle was our neighbor growing up. She lived on the 9th floor at 924 West End Avenue in apartment 95; we lived on the 6th floor in apartment 65. There was one elevator for this line of apartments and therefore everybody in them came to know each other quite well, especially since the elevator had a habit of breaking down and trapping a few of us in it for 20 minutes at a time.

As a young boy, I knew her as the kind-faced and friendly woman with the two fluffy big nice dogs (in contrast to the constantly barking and lunging German Shepherds who lived on 12 and scared the bejeezus out of me and everybody else). Then, when I was 9 or 10, I read A Wrinkle in Time and my sister Naomi told me offhandedly that she was its author.

I wrote her the first fan letter of my life and, heart pounding, rode the elevator to 9 and slipped it under her door. Within hours a package was left at our door with an inscribed copy of its recently published sequel, A Wind at the Door, a box of baked chocolate chip cookies, and a response that was so appreciative I could hardly believe it, it was so gracious and thoughtful. I had grown up with writers whose friends were all writers and one thing I had learned even at that ludicrously tender age is that saying anything to any author about his or her work is to enter into an emotional minefield.

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