Profile of Elaine Konigsburg by David Konigsburg

Elaine Lobl Konigsburg was born in New York City but lived most of her precollege days in the small town of Farrell, Pennsylvania. Although she readily adapts to any environment, it is probable that the excitement of Manhattan will always appeal to her most. A keen observer, she delights in being bombarded by a multitude of stimuli. Her objectivity enables her to be a good reporter. Fortunately, her subjective responses add a unique and personal flavor to her stories.

Early in her life, there was evidence that she would be successful. But nobody would have predicted that she would achieve recognition in the field of children’s literature. Elaine was valedictorian of her class in high school. Subsequently, she was an honor student at Carnegie Institute of Technology, where she majored in chemistry and was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Science. She continued her studies in chemistry in the graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. After a few minor explosions, burned hair, and stained and torn clothes, she began to think about other occupations. Frankly, it seemed like a just end to anyone who would even contemplate writing a thesis concerning the Grignard reaction using heterocyclic compounds of a pyridine base.

Fortuitously, her husband, an industrial psychologist, made one of his many moves. The Konigsburgs left Pittsburgh and a much relieved laboratory staff to live in Jacksonville, Florida. There Elaine taught science to young girls in a private school until 1955, when Paul was born. Seventeen months later Laurie arrived, and in 1959 Ross uttered his first of many sounds of protest. It was wonderful to watch the children develop, but there was a champagne celebration when all three were out of the diaper stage.

Shortly afterwards, Elaine returned to teaching. Her initial thoughts about writing stories for children occurred during this period. Instead, however, she explored her talents as an artist. With a strong desire to excel in any endeavor, she devoted many hours to perfecting techniques. Her efforts were rewarded with prizes in local shows. On a trip to the Grand Canyon, she made friends among the Hopi Indians by sketching their little boys and girls.

In 1962 our family moved to the metropolitan New York area. Elaine took several courses at the Art Students’ League. Her paintings received awards in shows held in Westchester County. As the children grew older and we became more involved with suburban living, Elaine was intrigued with the various forces exerting an influence on us.

In 1966 she began to write her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. Laurie, Paul, and Ross were delighted to serve as models for her illustrations. The five of us danced around the room the following year when the manuscript was completed and accepted by Atheneum.

Even before she received that good news, Elaine had begun writing From, the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Again our children were used as the models for the illustrations. Despite a fracture in her left leg and a series of accidents which resulted in seventeen stitches in Ross’s head, she persevered. Trips to the emergency room in the Port Chester hospital became almost a monthly routine.

Paul reached the age where he was involved in little league baseball, football, and basketball. We attended the games and cheered wildly for his team. If he caught the ball or made a hit, the game was a success regardless of the final score. Not satisfied with superficial knowledge, Elaine studied the official rule books. Serious discussions were held at the dinner table about the merits of a drag bunt and when it was wiser to run and hit instead of hit and run. We even got her to Shea and Yankee stadiums where she let her opinions about the managers’ decisions be known. This furnished the background for her third book, About the B’nai Bagels, which will be published in 1969.

With fond memories, the family left Port Chester in August, 1967, and returned to Jacksonville, Florida. January 13th of the following year proved to be anything but an unlucky day. We were in the middle of moving out of an apartment into our new house when the telephone rang. Amid considerable turmoil, Elaine learned that she had received the Newbery Award. There was much hugging and kissing and shouts of joy with neighbors and friends. And we are pleased that things have not yet settled down.

To date, Elaine has performed in a superior manner as an artist and author. Her accomplishments in those areas, however, are insignificant when compared with her achievements as a mother and wife. She has an excellent sense of priorities and a value system which promotes harmony. As our youngest, who plays a competent game of poker, says, “Don’t bet against her.”

From the August 1968 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Horn Book
Horn Book

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