of the Center for Children's Books
Virginia Hamilton, 1936-2002
"You have a most fine way of dreaming." Zeely, 1967
Virginia Hamilton had a surrealistic imagination from which she shaped stories that reshaped children's literature. During the fifty years of her honor-wreathed writing career, she continually surprised us with unexpected graphic images: a six-and-a-half-foot Watutsi descendent stepping regally through a Catalpa forest in Zeely; a cave of buried memories from the Underground Railroad in The House of Dies Drear; an African American boy surveying his Appalachian domain from atop a pole in M.C. Higgins the Great; a young black musical prodigy going underground in The Planet of Junior Brown; an African American girl haunted by an uncle who died from the same disease that afflicts her brother in Sweet Whispers Brother Rush; a bi-racial romance with a slow-spoken narrator in A Little Love. Race is a presence in these and her other novels, but beyond the dynamics of race are reflected the dynamics of the human race.
Her collections, including The People Could Fly and Her Stories, have breathed new life into African American folktales long dormant. She respected the strong bones of story but fleshed them in her own voice, for along with her vividly visual images came the music of her words, the subject of passionate award committee discussions, student papers, even academic articles. And this writer turned out to be a warm friend, even of a reviewer who sometimes commented negatively on her work. She called me, whenever we met, "a tall drink of water"--we were a good fit of creative and critical energy. I have personal memories of Virginia that have blended with my study of her work to the point where she seems to sing to me off each page, but that aesthetic and emotional flow is not unique to me. It is common to Virginia's readers, and her voice will keep resonating from the pages of the great books she gave us.
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This page was last updated on March 1, 2002.