Louise Fitzhugh

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Louise Fitzhugh
Fitzhugh, date unknown
Fitzhugh, date unknown
Born(1928-10-05)October 5, 1928
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedNovember 19, 1974(1974-11-19) (aged 46)
New Milford, Connecticut, U.S.
OccupationWriter, illustrator
GenreChildren's and young adult fiction
Notable worksHarriet the Spy

Louise Fitzhugh (October 5, 1928 – November 19, 1974) was an American writer and illustrator of children's books, known best for the novel Harriet the Spy. Her other novels were two Harriet sequels, The Long Secret and Sport, as well as Nobody's Family is Going to Change.


Early life[edit]

Fitzhugh was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to wealthy parents in 1928. Her parents divorced when she was an infant and her father, Millsaps Fitzhugh, gained custody; she lived with him in the South. She attended Miss Hutchison's School and three different universities. She lived in Washington, D.C., France, and Italy.[1]

She attended Bard College where she became involved in politics and anti-racism. She studied art in Italy and France, and continued her studies at the Art Students League and the Cooper Union. She lived most of her adult life in New York City and had houses in both Long Island and Bridgewater, Connecticut.[1]


Fitzhugh was the illustrator of the 1961 children's book Suzuki Beane, a parody of Eloise; while Eloise lived in the Plaza, Suzuki was the daughter of beatnik parents and slept on a mattress on the floor of a Bleecker Street pad in Greenwich Village. Fitzhugh worked closely with author Sandra Scoppettone to produce Suzuki Beane, which incorporated typewriter font and line drawings in an original way. Although a parody of both Eloise and beatnik conceit, the book sprang to life as a genuine work of literature. Today, it is much sought after on used-book websites.

Fitzhugh's best-known book was Harriet the Spy, published in 1964 to some controversy since so many characters were far from admirable. It has since become a classic. According to her New York Times obituary, published November 19, 1974: "The book helped introduce a new realism to children's fiction and has been widely imitated". Harriet is the daughter of affluent New Yorkers who leave her in the care of her nanny, Ole Golly, in their Manhattan townhouse. Hardly the feminine girl heroine typical of the early 1960s, Harriet is a writer who notes everything about everybody in her world in a notebook which ultimately falls into the wrong hands. Ole Golly gives Harriet the unlikely but practical advice that: "Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth". By and large, Harriet the Spy was well-received—it was named to the New York Times Outstanding Book Award list in 1964—and it has sold 4 million copies since publication. It was very popular among young girls, particularly non-conforming girls who lacked representation in fiction.

Fitzhugh, like many of Harriet's fans, was a lesbian. "Although Harriet's sexuality is never touched on in the book, her boy's clothes and bravado sent a message to some kids who felt different and didn't know why."[2]

Two characters from the book, Beth Ellen and Sport, were featured in two of Fitzhugh's later books, The Long Secret and Sport. The Long Secret deals fairly honestly with female puberty; the main characters are pre-teen girls who discuss how their changing bodies feel.

Another young adult manuscript, Amelia, concerned two girls falling in love. This manuscript was not published and was later lost.[3]

Fitzhugh illustrated many of her books and had works exhibited in Banfer Gallery, New York, in 1963, among many other galleries.

Her 1974 novel Nobody's Family is Going to Change was adapted into the 1983 Tony-nominated musical The Tap Dance Kid.[4]


Fitzhugh died in 1974 of a brain aneurysm, eight days before the publication of Nobody's Family Is Going To Change. Her obituary was published in The New York Times.[5]



Children's books[edit]

  • Bang, Bang, You're Dead, (co-written with Sandra Scoppettone), illus. Fitzhugh (Harper & Row, 1969), LCCN 69-14440
  • I Am Five, written and illus. by Fitzhugh (Delacorte Press, 1978), LCCN 78-50404
  • I Am Four, illus. Susan Bonners (Delacorte, 1982), LCCN 82-70309
  • I Am Three, illus. Susanna Natti (Delacorte, 1982), LCCN 81-15218

As illustrator only[edit]


  • New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year citation, 1964
  • Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award, 1967 (Harriet the Spy)
  • Children's Book Bulletin, 1976 (Nobody's Family is Going to Change)
  • Children's Workshop Other Award, 1976 (Nobody's Family is Going to Change)
  • Emmy Award for children's entertainment special (The Tap Dance Kid, based on Nobody's Family is Going to Change).


  1. ^ a b Nodelman, Perry. "Louise Fitzhugh (5 October 1928-19 November 1974)." American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction. Ed. Glenn E. Estes. Vol. 52. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 133-142. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 52. Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
  2. ^ Grant, Neva (March 3, 2008). "Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy". NPR.
  3. ^ Horning, Kathleen T. (April 18, 2014), Spying on Louise Fitzhugh, Horn Book
  4. ^ Gans, Andrew (January 13, 2021). "Watch Dulé Hill Perform 'Fabulous Feet' From The Tap Dance Kid". Playbill. Retrieved October 18, 2021.>,
  5. ^ "Louise Fitzhugh Is Dead at 46; 'Harriet the Spy' Author-Artist". The New York Times. November 21, 1974. p. 50.

Further reading[edit]

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