All of us at the Mixed-Up Files were saddened to learn of the passing of the author who inspired the name of our group blog, E.L. Konigsburg. The esteemed author died on April 19 at age 83.
Konigsburg was a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal, for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 1968, and for The View from Saturday in 1997. She was the only writer to have received both the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year.
She was born Elaine Lobl in New York City, the middle of three daughters. She grew up in Western Pennsylvania, then bucked the trends for women at the time she entered college by pursuing a major in chemistry at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. She continued her studies in graduate school, taught science at a private girls’ school, married David Konigsburg, and had three children. As her children began school, Konigsburg rekindled a childhood passion for painting and writing. Her desire to write something that reflected her own children’s growing up experiences, rather than the privileged lives of many characters in the books she had read, is the spark for many of her works.
Why did she choose to use E.L.? She didn’t think it was important for readers to know if she was a man or woman. And, Konigsburg was a great admirer of E.B. White, so she thought it would bring her luck to submit her first manuscript as E.L.
The Mixed-Up Files is perhaps Konigsburg’s best known book. The brilliantly quirky mystery features a spunky brother and sister who run away and hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. But during her lifetime, she authored 20 titles for children. Her most recent book was The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (Atheneum, 2007).
Many of her main characters are age 12. She once explained that this is the age when kids long to be like everyone else, but at the same time, want to establish their own identity. This makes for a compelling question: how does a character reconcile those opposing longings?
And that’s the heart of E.L.’s characters — and her novels — those inner questions every child grapples with as he or she grows up.
Thank you, E.L., for writing such timeless, engaging stories. We will miss you, but know that many generations of children will continue to enjoy your books.
Your blog was the first thing I thought of when I heard the sad news. I wanted to share my post on From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and how it make an art museum come alive for a 4th grade boy in tribute to her. http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2013/04/ancient-egypt-chapter-books/
My dear fourth grade teacher read From The Mixed-Up Files to our class. I was entranced. I wanted to live that book. When I grew up I wanted to write it. I’m glad she knew how beloved she was.
Kimberley, lucky you, to get to hear her in person! Thanks for the tip on Giaconda.
I was so very sad to hear this yesterday. I got to hear Elaine Konigsburg speak at my very first national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in 1995 and she was simply brilliant. Inspiring and so smart and made me cry. If you haven’t read her book THE SECOND MRS. GIACONDA yet (about the painting of the Mona Lisa) run out and get it. I also recently learned that Simon & Schuster is going to bring out her entire list of books in trade paperbacks this fall, which is totally awesome! Thank you, E.L. Konigsburg, for inspiring many generations of children and adults with your books and your wit, wisdom, and heart. Blessings to her family. I hope she’s writing a new book in heaven!
So interesting, that insight about 12-year-olds. I loved her books, even though I didn’t come to them until I was all grown up. Lovely tribute to E.L. Konigsburg–thanks!
Excellent post about an excellent writer. E.L. will be missed!!
Thank you for writing this wonderful tribute, Michele! This is a huge loss. I’m grateful that E.L.’s timeless, amazing stories should live on through generations.