Posts Tagged Virginia Hamilton


Today it’s my great pleasure to introduce MUF readers to a brand new collection titled Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels, which will be published by Library of America on September 28. The volume, edited by Mixed-Up Files contributor, Julie K. Rubini, includes five of Hamilton’s best known and most beloved works as well as twenty beautifully restored illustrations, (ten in full color for the first time); a newly researched chronology of Hamilton’s life and career; and a selection of other related writings, such as her Newbery Award Acceptance Speech and an essay titled, “Nonwhite Literature as American Literature: A Proposal for Cultural Democracy.”

The Library of America has generously offered to send one lucky winner a copy of Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels. Click on the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the interview for chance to win. (U.S. only.)


About Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Esther Hamilton (March 12, 1936-February 19, 2002) was the author of forty-one books. Her many achievements include winning The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1974 and a National Book Award and the Newbery Medal in 1975, for her novel, M.C. Higgins, the Great. It was the first book to win all three awards. Not only was she the first African American to win the Newbery Medal, she was also the recipient of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award).

For more on Virginia Hamilton, see our archived post here.

About the Novels Included in the Collection

In Zeely (1967), Geeder Perry and her brother, Toeboy, go to their uncle’s farm for the summer and encounter a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Watusi queen and a mysterious night traveler. (Full color spread of the Zeely interior art, presented in full color in this edition for the first time.)

In the Edgar Award–winning The House of Dies Drear (1968), Thomas Small and his family move to a forbidding former waystation on the Underground Railroad—a house whose secrets Thomas must discover before it’s too late.

Junior Brown, a three-hundred-pound musical prodigy, plays a silent piano in The Planet of Junior Brown (1971), while his homeless friend Buddy Clark draws on all his New York City wit to protect Junior’s disintegrating mind. This novel was adapted for a 1997 film of the same name.

In the National Book Award–winning M.C. Higgins, The Great (1974), Mayo Cornelius Higgins sits atop a forty-foot pole on the side of Sarah’s Mountain and dreams of escape. Poised above his family’s home is a massive spoil heap from strip-mining that could come crashing down at any moment. Can he rescue his family and save his own future? Must he choose?

And in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), fifteen-year-old Tree’s life revolves around her ailing brother, Dab, until she sees cool, handsome Brother Rush, an enigmatic figure who may hold the key to unlocking her family’s troubled past.


An Interview With the Publisher and Editor

Interviewed here are: Brian McCarthy, Associate Publisher for Library of America, and Julie K. Rubini, who is the author of Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller as well as the editor of this new collection.

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about the decision to create this beautiful book at this time and how you all determined which novels to include?

Brian: Virginia Hamilton was a major figure in American children’s literature and a natural for inclusion in the Library of America, which honors the full range of great American writing in authoritative new editions. In framing this volume we looked to her breakthrough novels of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which have stood the test of time with readers and critics and continue to inspire and delight some fifty years after they were written. In many ways, the social justice movement of the last year and a half has made these five books more resonant than ever, simply by the way they center African American young people and their families, powerfully underscoring that Black lives matter. (As for the beauty of the Library of America edition, much of the credit goes to star book designer Kimberly Glyder, who created a gorgeous original portrait of Hamilton for the cover.)


Dorian: What was your experience like in re-reading these five works by Virginia Hamilton for the collection?

Julie: In reading Virginia’s works for research purposes for my biography, Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller (Ohio University Press, 2017), I focused more so on Virginia, the writer. I wondered about her process, her life during the time she wrote each novel. I studied where she was living while creating these amazing works, wanting to learn more about her life in both New York City and Yellow Springs. I tried to learn how changes in her life, from meeting and marrying Arnold, to becoming a mother, and ultimately a successful author with many demands for her time, impacted her writing and stories. When I read these five novels in the collection again, I read them as someone who simply wanted to enjoy and get lost in her work. What a joy it was to rediscover her incredible imagination and characters through this process. I can’t wait to receive my author copies to enjoy yet again in this wonderful collection!


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about what you discovered about Virginia Hamilton the person through your research?

Julie: Everyone I spoke with described Virginia as kind, loving, always willing to give of her time, and yet always keeping Arnold and their two children as her priority. Virginia was naturally shy, but rose to the occasion for the hundreds of speeches and presentations she shared through her career. She loved sharing coffee with Arnold throughout the day, comparing notes on their work, Arnold’s homemade marinara sauce bubbling away in the kitchen. Virginia embraced technology, graduating from her portable Olivetti typewriter to marveling over the ease of rewriting on personal computers. Virginia’s favorite animal was the jaguar, and she had a collection of frog figurines from her extensive travels!


Personal Favorites

Dorian: I’m sure you both love all of Virginia Hamilton’s novels, but which is your personal favorite and why? 

Julie: I have a special place in my heart for The House of Dies Drear. I hadn’t read the novel before beginning my research for my biography. After my first meeting with Virginia’s husband, the late (and great!) Arnold Adoff, I learned it was his favorite of all of her works. Arnold became a friend through the process of sharing her life journey with younger readers, so although difficult to choose a favorite, Virginia’s mystery set in a home that was part of the Underground Railroad has my vote, in honor of their epic love story.

Brian: I do love all these novels, but my favorite is Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, from 1982, a deeply unsettling story of a family haunted (literally, as it happens) by abuse. Through the painful journey of fifteen-year-old Teresa, or Tree as she is known, Hamilton crafts an inspiring portrait of the power of forgiveness. I defy any reader not to be completely won over by Tree.


Dorian: Why do you think Virginia Hamilton’s work has so much staying power? 

Julie: Virginia often stated that her work always began with the central character, and eventually the story revealed itself to her. Virginia had the most incredible imagination, bringing us characters such as M.C. Higgins, who sits on top of a 40-foot pole watching over his beloved Sarah’s Mountain, the regal and mysterious Zeely, curious Thomas Small, and the streetwise and witty Buddy. Virginia’s characters remain some of the most unique characters in children’s literature.

Brian: I agree that character is key with Hamilton. She had a matchless gift for dialogue, for capturing the way that young people think and speak, that makes her novels feel profoundly true. And she had tremendous faith in her readers. While these books are great fun, full of wonder and imagination, as Julie says, they are also very serious in the themes they explore—from the legacy of slavery and environmental depredation to homelessness and mental illness—never shying from addressing the harder aspects of coming of age. They take us to the places where compassion begins.


Dorian: Virginia Hamilton is known as the most honored author of children’s literature of all time, yet her work is not as widely read as it should be. How do you hope Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels will change this?

Julie: The book is absolutely beautiful, inside, and out. It is my hope that through this recognition and exposure of her work in the Library of America collection, that educators will once again embrace her work and include it within their curriculums. Ultimately, hopefully more children will discover Virginia’s incredible writing voice and get caught up in her amazing work.

Brian: Hard as it is to imagine, a new generation has come of age in the nearly twenty years since Hamilton’s untimely death. All of us at Library of America hope that this volume will serve as an occasion for readers and reviewers to rediscover her work, to admire anew its range and fearless truth-telling.


Library of America Online Speaker Series

Dorian: The Library of Congress, home of Virginia Hamilton’s papers, is collaborating in the promotion of Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels. Could you elaborate on this?

Brian: Yes, we’re thrilled to announce that on October 6 Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, will sit down with acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson to discuss Hamilton and her legacy as part of Library of America’s free online speaker series, LOA Live. Please visit for more information.

Thanks so much Brian and Julie for carrying on Virginia Hamilton’s legacy and for taking the time to talk to us about this wonderful new book.

For a chance to win a copy of the book, click on the Rafflecopter link before Monday, Sept. 27 at 11:59 PM (U.S. Only). 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

What does getting a Starred review from Kirkus mean?

I was enjoying an evening of golf and dinner with my husband and friends. I left my phone at home. When we got home to walk our lovable two-year-old Labrador (who has the incredible literary name of Luna), I grabbed my phone. As I fired it up, I had several texts from my editor, Michelle Houts.

“Hey! I’m so very excited and happy for you, the shining star (think emoji) of our series!! Congratulations! (Another emoji.)

I sent a text back. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Julie…you got a Kirkus STARRED REVIEW for Virginia Hamilton.”

At which point I called Michelle and had a memorable, fun conversation about this good fortune that has been bestowed on my recently released middle-grade biography of the most honored author of children’s literature.


Even though this all occurred about a month ago, I’m still pinching myself. My third book published, just my second biography, and I’ve received this incredible validation of my writing abilities. And to be honest, from the outset, I didn’t really know the significance or the impact the glorious review meant. So, being the true-blue, nonfiction writer I am, I did my research.

Kirkus is one of four magazines that review books for publishers, for a fee.

Publishers Weekly is considered the leading magazine covering every aspect of “creating and selling the written word…” Over 7,000 book and media reviews are conducted each year. Subscribers shell out $250 annually for the benefit of reading the magazine. Kirkus gives individuals in the industry a preview of the most notable books being published, weeks before they are released. Kirkus sends out weekly emails to subscribers, doling out their reviews. Digital and print subscriptions cost $200 a year.

Library Journal and Booklist are the other two, and geared mainly toward librarians.  Booklist reviewers are affiliated with the American Library Association and reviews over 8,000 books annually. Library Journal reviewers are librarians and library experts who review a similar number of books as Booklist.

All four offer Starred Reviews.

But getting one from Kirkus is a whole different level, so I’m told. Kirkus has a reputation in author’s circles as being, well, let’s say persnickety. Harsh was another adjective used.

So, getting a Starred review is even more significant. It symbolizes excellence in writing. As the Kirkus website offers, “The Kirkus Star is one of the most prestigious designations in the book industry.”

When I shared the news with Arnold Adoff, the late Ms. Hamilton’s husband, he shared that in all the many years he and Virginia wrote, “getting a star from Kirkus was the hardest.”

So, what does that review mean? For me, that little star hopefully shines a big light on Virginia’s life journey, and ultimately creates new readers and fans of her work.

Virginia Hamilton Cover

She’s the real star.