September 17, 1909|
Oak Park, Illinois
|Died||June 8, 1968
Wainscott, Long Island, New York
|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, (1938), and the Newbery Honor book Gone-Away Lake (1957), she also authored the popular Melendy Quartet series. A multiple winner of the O. Henry Award, (named for iconic short story writer O. Henry, 1862-1910), her short stories and articles for adults appeared in many popular magazines and have been reprinted in anthologies and textbooks.
Life and death
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 famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright), was also a book and magazine illustrator, a shoe designer for Capezio, and author of 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. Her mother remarried, becoming Maginel Wright Barney. Originally, Enright intended to be a dancer, and for a time she studied under the famous Martha Graham.:141 Her summers were spent on Nantucket Island, off the coast of New England, 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, and at the Parsons School of Design in Paris, France. Enright also reviewed children's literature for the New York Times, taught creative writing at Barnard College, a women's college affiliated with the then all-male Columbia University in New York City's Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper Westside, (1960–1962), and led writing seminars at colleges across the U.S.A.
Enright married Robert Gillham, an advertising executive with the J. Walter Thompson agency, April 24, 1930. They had three sons: Nicholas, Robert and Oliver (1948–2008). On May 12, 2008, her youngest son, Oliver Gillham, took his own life despondent over his wife's earlier death from cancer.
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, New York State 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 Wainscott, Long Island, New York State in Suffolk County, New York, next to her husband and mother. There is also a flat stone commemorative tablet for Elizabeth Enright, along with 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 her uncle Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark home, Taliesin.
Beginning as a magazine illustrator, in 1930 Enright illustrated Marian King's Kees, a children's book about a Dutch boy and his pet duck. 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. After 1951 her children's books were illustrated by other artists.
Her next book, Thimble Summer, (1938), 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.
Enright's Gone-Away Lake appeared two decades later in 1957 and became a Newbery Honor book. It also received the New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival Award. In 1963, the American Library Association named Gone-Away Lake as the U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, from the International Board on Books for Young People (announced at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, and presented by the Queen of Denmark) and in 1970, thirteen years after its publication, it also received the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. The first editions of Gone-Away Lake and its sequel, Return to Gone-Away, were illustrated by noted illustrators Joe and Beth Krush. In the early twenty-first century, 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 at the 1963 New York Herald Tribune's Children's Spring Book Festival. Enright's final children's book, Zee, the story of a naughty fairy, appeared in 1966.
Enright's short stories for adult readers were published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, The Yale Review, Harper's Magazine (monthly) 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
According to children's literature expert May Hill Arbuthnot, "Elizabeth Enright has a gift for realism" and her style is "forthright and lively". Speaking of the Melendy series, Anita Silvey wrote, "These cosmopolitan children are intelligent, artistic, affectionate, and, most of all, interesting." 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."
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.":145
- 1935 - Kintu: A Congo Adventure, Farrar & Rinehart;
- 1938 - Thimble Summer, Farrar & Rinehart — Newbery Medal Winner
- 1940 - The Sea Is All Around, Farrar & Rinehart
- 1951 - A Christmas Tree for Lydia, Henry Holt and Company — a small-format gift book illustrated by the author; originally published in the magazine Woman's Home Companion as "A Tree for Lydia")
- 1957 - Gone-Away Lake, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. — Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable Book
- 1961 - Return to Gone-Away, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- 1963 - Tatsinda, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- 1965 - Zeee, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- Melendy quartet
- 1941 - The Saturdays Farrar & Rinehart — ALA Notable Book
- 1942 - The Four-Story Mistake, Farrar & Rinehart
- 1944 - Then There Were Five, Farrar & Rinehart
- 1951 - Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, Farrar & Rinehart
Collections of short stories for adults
- 1946 - Borrowed Summer and Other Stories, Rinehart
- 1951 - The Moment Before the Rain, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- 1956 - The Riddle of the Fly and Other Stories, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- 1966 - Doublefields: Memories and Stories, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
- "The Hero's Changing Face", in The Contents of the Basket, Spain, Francis (editor), New York 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.
- Silvey, Anita (editor), The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, pg. 143;
- Cech, John (editor), American Writers for Children, 1900–1960, Gale Research, 1983;
- Miller, Bertha Mahony and Field, Elinor, (editors); "Newbery Medal Books: 1922–1955"; Horn Book Magazine, 1955, LOC 55-13968, p. 169.
- "Not New York as has been reported some places.". Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2012-04-26.
- "Elizabeth Enright". Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2012-04-26.
- "A Different Kind of Hollywood Life". Palos Verde Patch. Retrieved 2012-04-26.
- "Boston Globe obituaries 1 June 2008". Boston Globe. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- "Gone-Away Lake". NYHT Award Sticker. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- "Gone-Away Lake". Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
- Arbuthnot, May Hill, Children and Books, Scott Foresman, 1964, pg. 440
- Chevalier, Tracy (editor), "Twentieth-Century Children's Writers", St. James Press, 1989, pp. 318;
- "Elizabeth Enright". Winning Authors: Profiles of the Newbery Medalists, pp. 57–59. Retrieved 2012-05-20.
- Elizabeth Enright Gillham at Find a Grave - Commemorative Tablet
- Elizabeth Enright Gillham at Find a Grave - Actual Gravesite