E. L. Konigsburg, Elaine Lobl Konigsburg, is probably remembered best as the long-named author of the even longer named From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a book about a brother and sister who run away to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to teach their parents a lesson about appreciating them and to live in comfort while doing it, and wind up uncovering the secret origins of an unattributed angel statue in the Met’s collection, a mystery as old as Michelangelo.
The author, not just of Mixed-Up Files but rather a score of books and novels died this last Friday in Falls Church, Virginia.
Konigsburg was the first person in her family to earn a degree (in chemistry), worked as a science teacher until the birth of her children, and then, as soon as the last of them started school, began to spend her mornings writing. Her first two books, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler were both published in 1967, and were both nominated for a Newberry Medal in 1968, with Mixed-Up Files winning. This double award made Konigsburg the only person to ever win a Newberry Award and Honor in the same year, which is not so bad for your first year as a published writer. Twenty years later, she would win another Newberry for The View from Saturday, “the longest span between two Newberys awarded to one author.”
Konigsburg grew up poor, in a family that would have rather she’d focused on “dusting furniture or baking cookies” instead of reading, but says that when she started teaching children she realized that even the girls she would have envied as a teenager were just as “uncomfortable inside” as she’d been. “The essential problems remain the same. The dressing that goes on the problems changes. But the kids I write about are asking for the same things I wanted. They want two contradictory things. They want to be the same as everyone else, and they want to be different from everyone else. They want acceptance for both.”
The Washington Post’s article on her passing quotes her from a Dallas Morning News interview in 2004: “I think most of us are outsiders. And I think that’s good because it makes you question things. I think it makes you see things outside yourself.” So long, Mrs. Konigsburg, and thanks for sharing all your mixed-up files.
(via The Washington Post.)