Elizabeth Enright

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Elizabeth Enright
Elizabeth Enright, children's author, photo.jpg
Born (1909-09-17)September 17, 1909
Oak Park, Illinois
Died June 8, 1968(1968-06-08)
Wainscott, New York
Occupation Writer, illustrator
Period 1935–1968
Genre Children's literature
Notable works
Notable awards Newbery Medal

Elizabeth Enright, (1909–1968), was an American writer of children's books, an illustrator, writer of short stories for adults, literary critic and teacher of creative writing. Perhaps best known as the Newbery Medal winning author of Thimble Summer and the Newbery Honor book Gone-Away Lake, she also authored the popular Melendy Quartet series. A multiple winner of the O. Henry Award, her short stories and articles for adults appeared in many popular magazines and have been reprinted in anthologies and textbooks.

Life and Death[edit]

Elizabeth Enright was born September 17, 1909, in Oak Park, Illinois. Her father, Walter J. Enright, was a political cartoonist. Her mother, Maginel Wright Enright, (the younger sister of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright), was a book and magazine illustrator, a shoe designer for Capezio, and authored the memoir, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses. The Enrights divorced when Elizabeth was eleven, and after that she attended boarding school in Connecticut.[1] Her mother remarried, becoming Maginel Wright Barney. Originally Enright intended to be a dancer, and for a time she studied under Martha Graham.[2]:141 Her summers were spent in Nantucket, a location she later used in some of her books.

Preparing for a career as an illustrator, Enright studied at the Art Students League of New York in 1927–1928,[3] and at the Parsons School of Design in Paris, France.[4] Enright also reviewed children's literature for The New York Times, taught creative writing at Barnard College, (1960–1962), and led writing seminars at colleges across the US.[5]

Enright married Robert Gillham, an advertising executive with J. Walter Thompson, April 24, 1930.[6] They had three sons: Nicholas, Robert and Oliver (1948–2008). On May 12, 2008, her son, Oliver Gillham, took his own life despondent over his wife's death from cancer.[7]

There is some confusion surrounding the circumstances of her early death aged 58, with some claiming that she took her own life at her home in Wainscott, Long Island, on June 8, 1968. Her obituary in the New York Times on June 9, 1968 states that she "died in her sleep at her home... after a short illness."

She is buried in Wainscott Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York next to her husband and mother. There is also a flat stone commemorative tablet for Elizabeth Enright, her husband and mother in Unity Chapel Cemetery in rural Spring Green, Wisconsin, where many members of her mother's family, the Lloyd-Joneses, are buried. The cemetery is adjacent to Uncle Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesin.


Beginning as a magazine illustrator, in 1930 Enright illustrated Marion King's Kees. At one point Enright developed a series of sketches with an African flair. She then wrote a story to go with them, and in 1935 her first book, Kintu: A Congo Adventure was published. It is significant that reviewers sometimes preferred the story over the pictures, as this encouraged Enright to turn more and more to writing.[1] After 1951 her children's books were illustrated by other artists.

Her next book, Thimble Summer, blended memories of summers spent on Frank Lloyd Wright's farm in Wisconsin and family stories from her mother and grandmother. It received the Newbery Medal for 1939, making Enright, at thirty, one of the youngest writers ever to win the award.[1][5]

Enright's Gone-Away Lake appeared in 1957 and became a Newbery Honor book.[8] It also received the New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival Award.[9] In 1963 the American Library Association named Gone-Away Lake as the U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, and in 1970 it received the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.[10] The first editions of Gone-Away Lake and its sequel, Return to Gone-Away, were illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush. The most recently[when?] reissued American editions of the Gone-Away books featured cover art by Harry Potter illustrator Mary GrandPre, but retained the Krushes' interior illustrations.

Enright also wrote the popular Melendy Quartet, a series of four children's novels published between 1941 and 1951: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. This series tells the adventures of four siblings who live in New York with their father, a writer, and a housekeeper named Cuffy.

Tatsinda, a traditional fairy tale, was named an Honor Book in the 1963 New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival. Enright's final children's book, the story of a naughty fairy named Zeee, appeared in 1966.

Enright's short stories for adult readers were published in The New Yorker, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, The Yale Review, Harper's Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. They have been reprinted in anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories (1951, 1952) and O. Henry Prize Stories (1946, 1949, 1950, 1960); and were collected in Borrowed Summer and Other Stories, The Moment Before the Rain, and The Riddle of the Fly. Her final book, Doublefields: Memories and Stories, is a combination of short fiction and tales from her own life experiences.

Reception and legacy[edit]

According to children's literature expert May Hill Arbuthnot, "Elizabeth Enright has a gift for realism" and her style is "forthright and lively".[11] Speaking of the Melendy series, Anita Silvey wrote, "These cosmopolitan children are intelligent, artistic, affectionate, and, most of all, interesting."[1] Reviewer Irene Haas says Enright's "Keen perception of childhood and her remarkable gifts as a writer place her books among the select few that are timeless and enduring." She goes on to say her books are ones to "become deeply involved in, to absorb easily and happily and to remember always."[12]

According to Charisse Gendron, "Enright's most original contribution to children's literature remains her humorous and lyrical description of characters... They are ardently individual, each one, and... fascinating to read about."[2]:145


Children's books[edit]

  • 1935 Kintu: A Congo Adventure, Farrar and Rinehart;
  • 1938 Thimble Summer, Farrar & Rinehart — Newbery Medal Winner
  • 1940 The Sea Is All Around, Farrar and Rinehart;
  • 1951 A Christmas Tree for Lydia, Holt — a small-format gift book illustrated by the author; originally published in Woman's Home Companion as "A Tree for Lydia");
  • 1957 Gone-Away Lake, Harcourt, Brace & World — Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable book
  • 1961 Return to Gone-Away, Harcourt, Brace & World;
  • 1963 Tatsinda, Harcourt, Brace & World;
  • 1965 Zeee, Harcourt, Brace & World.
Melendy quartet

Collections of short stories for adults[edit]

  • 1946 Borrowed Summer and Other Stories, Rinehart;
  • 1951 The Moment Before the Rain, Harcourt, Brace & World;
  • 1956 The Riddle of the Fly and Other Stories, Harcourt, Brace & World;
  • 1966 Doublefields: Memories and Stories, Harcourt, Brace & World.

Other works[edit]

  • "The Hero's Changing Face", in The Contents of the Basket, Spain, Francis (editor), NY Public Library, 1960;
  • "Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech", The Horn Book Magazine, July 1939, pp. 231–235;
  • "Realism in Children's Literature", The Horn Book Magazine, April 1967, pp. 2165–170.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Silvey, Anita (editor), The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, pg. 143;
  2. ^ a b Cech, John (editor), American Writers for Children, 1900–1960, Gale Research, 1983;
  3. ^ Miller, Bertha Mahony and Field, Elinor, (editors); "Newbery Medal Books: 1922–1955"; Horn Book Magazine, 1955, LOC 55-13968, p. 169.
  4. ^ "Not NY as has been reported some places.". Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2012-04-26. 
  5. ^ a b "Elizabeth Enright". Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2012-04-26. 
  6. ^ "A Different Kind of Hollywood Life". Palos Verde Patch. Retrieved 2012-04-26. 
  7. ^ "Boston Globe obituaries 1 June 2008". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2/7/2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. ^ http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal
  9. ^ "Gone-Away Lake". NYHT Award Sticker. Retrieved 5/2/2012.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ "Gone-Away Lake". Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. Retrieved 5/2/2012.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^ Arbuthnot, May Hill, Children and Books, Scott Foresman, 1964, pg. 440
  12. ^ Chevalier, Tracy (editor), Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. James Press, 1989, pp. 318;

External links[edit]

  • "Elizabeth Enright". Winning Authors: Profiles of the Newbery Medalists, pp. 57–59. Retrieved 2012-05-20.