Virginia Hamilton's compelling and innovative works for youth remain the highest peak on the landscape of juvenile literature, winning the most honors and awards ever. How gratifying it is, then, to discover another genre by her in this collection of her speeches and essays, compiled by her husband, Arnold Adoff, and Kacy Cook. Although she attended many conventions and gave many speeches, Hamilton never duplicated herself, instead meticulously crafting a different presentation each time with new insights. Certain themes recur: the reflection of her Ohio upbringing in the midst of a large and nurturing family; the progress of a paralleland not minorityculture across the American hopescape; nonwhite literature as a tributary flowing into the larger river rather than as a separate one; recreating plantation-era folktales as metaphor for current struggles. In many speeches, Hamilton read passages from her books and described the transformative process of creating characters and their stories. Her Sheema Hadley of A Little Love (Philomel, 1984/VOYA December 1984), for instance, was black, overweight, and not very pretty. But Hamilton loved her and brought her to life. Sheema represented the forgotten that her creator could not forget. Hamilton intended her nontraditional characters to remind readers that each individual is essential to the whole, each has dreams and longs for connections. "Older allies"her termof today's youth will find in Hamilton's speeches and essays a renewal of their vision. Her belief in the sanctity of each young mind and heart remain a beacon upon which we can retrain our own sights from time to time. Reviewer: Marla K. Unruh
Virginia Hamilton is one of the most justly honored writers of the twentieth century: winner of the Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, the National Book Award, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, among many other accolades. This invaluable collection offers a compilation of all her major speeches, as well as essays and interviews; "rememories" of her by her surviving husband and children complete the collection. Hamilton's reflections are far ranging, touching on everything from her mission to explore and celebrate the "parallel culture" of the African-American experience to her own writing process, from children's literature in the Soviet Union to the craft of biography, from Gertrude Stein and William James to African-American folklore. Remarkably, as editor Katy Cook notes in an afterword, "Virginia always broke new ground in her speeches. No two were alike." Crafted with the same exquisite care that marks all her published work, these shimmer with beautifully rendered insights: e.g., "In all of my fiction, the characters win out for life. . . Benevolent life is the one concession I make to wish fulfillment." Hamilton's own "benevolent life" is richly on display here. Thanks to the editors for their labor of love in giving Hamilton readers and scholars this great and wonderful gift. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Virginia Hamilton's body of work, labeled "liberation literature," resists genre and category lines as it blends memory and fantasy, history and invention, creativity and realism. A writer of fiction and nonfiction, picture books and folk tales, and a central figure in African-American children's literature, Hamilton spoke to issues of identity, family, race, heritage, and friendship, and touched the hearts and minds of her readersadolescent and adult alike. She left a heritage of forty-one books and a treasure trove of essays, lectures, speeches, and conversations, each alive with vivid, astonishing language. In each, her goal remained the same: to allow the reader to understand the world and his or her place within it. This beautiful collection is no exception. The collection encourages the reader not only to listen, but to actively join in the conversation. Readers are encouraged to compare Hamilton's theories and philosophies with their real life experiences, to test and judge for one's self. It is not difficult to see why Hamilton was granted every award for youth literature; she has a way of speaking to and about adolescence, and life in general, wherein every word rings true. The collection ranges from the conversational to the scholarly, and will obviously appeal to advanced readers familiar with Hamilton's work. For those who are just beginning to know her, it will serve as a foundational introduction to her writing style, her voice, and her recurring themes. This is a collection for every school library. Reviewer: Courtney Huse Wika
VOYA - Courtney Huse Wika
This volume of 33 speeches, essays, and interviews was selected from the more than 150 manuscripts left by the author after her death in 2002. Spanning 30 years, the collection includes her Arbuthnot lecture, as well as acceptance speeches for major literary awards: the Newbery Medal for M. C. Higgins the Great, the Coretta Scott King, Boston Globe-Horn Book, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilder awards, as well as the Regina Medal. The pieces do indeed trace the development of her ideas, as she explains parallel culture, addresses the perceived difficulty of some of her fiction, and develops theories of fiction. A constant thread is the central importance of her home, Yellow Springs, OH, where her grandfather was brought to freedom by his fugitive slave mother, and of her extended family, especially her mother. Brief essays by her colleagues and her two children, a sketch and time line of Hamilton's life, a list of all her books and major awards, along with tributes from editors, are appended. This important volume belongs in every library serving adults who read children's literature.—Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams
This chronological collection of materials written by and about the acclaimed children’s book author forms an engaging portrait of an important figure. Her essays, speeches, and dialogues address such issues as racial identity in America, the role of a writer, and the influence of children’s literature (“I want to change the perception about young people,” she said in a 1993 lecture, “that generally they are not capable of enjoying complex stories”). Fans and scholars alike will value her intimate discussion of her craft in such beloved works as The Planet of Junior Brown and M.C. Higgins, the Great. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
Before she died, Hamilton (1934-2002), likely the most honored writer for young people ever, also had a thing or two to tell adult audiences about her art, craft, milieu and African-American identity. Most of those observations were aired in award speeches, keynote talks and interviews that were published, if at all, in professional journals. Adoff, the author's husband, gathers more than 30 addresses along with "rememories"-her term, defined as "an exquisitely textured recollection, real or imagined, which is otherwise indescribable"-from him and their two children. The collection begins with a ruminative 1971 self portrait ("Each book must speak ‘This is what I have to say,' in the hope that each reader will answer ‘That is what I wanted to know' "), ends with a letter savaging a critic of certain ethnic literary awards and in between carries reflections on her background, her stories and characters, her literary models (notably Hans Christian Andersen) and the effects of being a black female writer. She never repeats herself, but common themes emerge-particularly the central importance of "moral realism" in her writing, and her provocative view that American society is a weave of permanently "parallel cultures," with those in the minority oppressed, politicized, and represented by writers whose work is infused with racial awareness. Capped by a long list of major awards and an annotated list of works, these selections-more of which will be posted later on the website that Adoff lovingly maintains-will not only spark rememories in those who knew or heard her, but leave readers and writers with profound insights into her mind and spirit. By any standards Hamilton was an unusually clearthinker and brilliant wordsmith. Here a lesser-known facet of her glittering reputation gets a fresh shine.