A Tribute to 'Author: Virginia Hamilton'
Virginia Hamilton ... received every major award and honor in her field.
Internationally known for her exquisite, dramatic storytelling, she ...
earned her reputation as a "majestic presence in children's literature."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"I've been a writer all my life, since the time I was a
child in grade school, when I first learned to scribble
down sentences describing the pictures in my head....
as a kid I spent a good amount of time listening ..."
-- Virginia Hamilton
Virginia Hamilton was born into the flat rural
landscape of southern Ohio farm country, where
her mother's family had lived since the late 1850s.
"I love my home town," she writes. "I live on
land that has been in my family for generations.
And being an Ohioan means that for me, there is nothing quite like
an Ohio sky, unless it would be the beauty of an Ohio sunset."
Both of her parents were enthusiastic readers and gifted storytellers.
Hamilton recalls that her mother could, "take a slice
of fiction floating around and polish it into a saga."
Growing up on a small farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the 1940s,
Virginia Hamilton was lovingly embraced by the sights, sounds and smells
of rural America, and by a big extended family of cousins, uncles, aunts.
All these things would come into play in the
children's stories Hamilton would spin as an adult.
But probably the biggest influence on Virginia Hamilton
... was the fact that her own parents were storytellers.
And what stories they told!
Hamilton's maternal grandfather, Levi Perry, had escaped as a
child, from slavery in Virginia, by crossing the Ohio River to freedom.
He had also had plenty of company in this resolve:
---Fully 50,000 slaves passed through Ohio or settled there during antebellum times,
aided on the Underground Railroad by Shawnee Indians and white abolitionists.
---The aging homes where the escaped slaves hid became
catacombed with secret passages and hiding spaces.
---And all these years later, the description of what happened
in those hiding places and "stations" on the Underground
Railroad still makes modern children's eyes grow wide.
Young Virginia, named for her grandfather's
home state, was one of these children
listening at her mother's and father's knee.
---"My mother said that her father sat his ten children down
every year and said, 'I'm going to tell you how I escaped
from slavery, so slavery will never happen to you,"'
the author related in a telephone interview.
---She added that she traces her own interest in literature
to the fact that her parents were "storytellers and unusually fine storytellers,
and realized, although I don't know how consciously, that they
were passing along heritage and culture and a pride in their history."
Hamilton has picked up on those strains, writing or editing stories for more
than 30 children's books, including contemporary novels about teen-agers,
biographies of the historical figures Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois, and
collections of African-American folklore and slavery-era "liberation" stories.
For her work, she has been repeatedly honored with the National Book
Award, the John Newbery Medal, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the
Coretta Scott King Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award,
and, most prestigious of all, the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.
Still, probably her most satisfying award has been knowing the
contribution she's made for children who didn't have family
storytellers to tell them of their rich ethnic culture.
"Up until this year, I think," Hamilton said in the interview,
"5,000 new children's titles were published every year.
And out of that, maybe 40 of them were African-American books."
Thanks to Hamilton, who has lent her name for the past decade to
an annual conference on multicultural children's literature -- and thanks
to writers who have followed her lead the dearth of literature
about the ethnic experience is beginning to change.
Ms. Hamilton resided in her beloved hometown of
Yellow Springs , Ohio and she passed away as of
12:25 AM, Tuesday Morning, February 19, 2002.
Her family can be contacted via FAX at 937-767-1620 and
can also be contacted via email at arnoldadoff@...
- Her work is excellent.I have a couple of her books of African American stories. She has inspired me as a teller. I was telling in a library about 5 years ago, when the librarian told me she was very ill. I never got the chance to meet her but her work is very appreciated not just by her audience but by the storytelling world. Thanks for posting this.Peter