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Remembering Elaine Konigsburg

We mourn the death (last Friday) of E.L. Konigsburg, who never wrote a book I didn’t want to read. (Not that I love them all, but even where she went wrong, she did so magnetically.) I remember a slightly uneasy conversation with Konigsburg’s editor Jean Karl right after Elaine had won her second Newbery Medal for a book the Horn Book didn’t much like. “She never writes the same book twice,” offered Jean, and with that I could enthusiastically agree. Middle-grade adventure (Mixed-Up Files), po-mo mystery (Father’s Arcane Daughter), baby Kafka ((George)), and truly edgy YA (Silent to the Bone, link leading to my NY Times review). I could be wrong here, but Up From Jericho Tel is probably the only novel for children starring a dead Tallulah Bankhead.

I met Elaine several times, first when she gave a dynamite speech about censorship at the University of Chicago when I was a student, and last when she gave another dynamite speech upon receiving the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion in 1998. An acute critic, she was one of the few writers for children  who I thought could do an equally good job on our side of the fence. She had a big Carol Burnett smile and was always the most stylishly dressed person in the room. That goes for her prose, too.

Elissa has collected some of Konigsburg’s Horn Book moments.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Some years ago, Mrs. Konigsburg gave a speech at Simmons — or rather she sent her speech to be read by someone else (Lois Lowry maybe? or was it Natalie Babbit?) because her husband was ill. The speech was brilliant and funny: all about the importance of doing “nothing.” Was it ever published? I think about it often.

  2. Debby Hull says:

    She gave another dynamite speech upon receiving the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion in 1998 that my sisters (both librarians) raving over. I was unable to attend the convention. Was it ever published? I want to be apart of their experience….since they are still talking about the speech!

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