Page 2 of 2   <      

Writer Madeleine L'Engle, 88; Author of 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Madeleine L'Engle Camp was born Nov. 29, 1918, in New York. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a foreign correspondent and author of thrillers, some of which ("Backstage Phantom," "House of Fear") were turned into films. Her mother, also named Madeleine, was a pianist from a prominent Jacksonville, Fla., family.

Ms. L'Engle, a demure child, said she was abandoned by her parents at a Swiss boarding school. "I shook hands with the matron, and they vanished," she told the New Yorker.

They later enrolled her in schools in Jacksonville, where she once was horrified to see an alligator crawl up a porch front, and a girl's prep school in Charleston, S.C., where she bloomed socially and was named class president.

Her father died about that time, and some critics noted that it was probably not coincidental that many of her books include searches for lost fathers.

Ms. L'Engle was involved in theater and playwriting at Smith College, where she graduated in 1941, and afterward spent two years as assistant stage manager for a production of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."

She married one of the show's actors, Hugh Franklin, who had a recurring role on the TV soap opera "All My Children." He died in 1986. A son, Bion Franklin, died in 1999.

Survivors include two daughters, Josephine Jones of Goshen, Conn., and Maria Rooney of Mystic, Conn.; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

In the early 1950s, Ms. L'Engle and her husband settled in Goshen, where they owned and operated a general store. In later years, she taught at an Episcopal day school and was a librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, both in Manhattan.

Although she had written and published novels since 1945 -- her debut book, "The Small Rain," was about a young pianist's struggle between art and love -- it was not until 1960 that she wrote her first widely recognized work.

That book, "Meet the Austins," was the first novel in a series about a Connecticut family and its struggles with jealousy, love and death. A later book in the series, "A Ring of Endless Light" (1980), was a Newbery finalist.

As with the Austins series, Ms. L'Engle was compelled by popular demand to create more books with the Murry children, including "A Wind in the Door" (1973), "A Swiftly Tilting Planet" (1978), "Many Waters" (1986) and "An Acceptable Time" (1989).

Over the years, the characters of Meg and Calvin, who becomes a biologist, marry and have a daughter, Polyhymnia.

The author did not claim to have any special knowledge of science while writing the books.

She once told National Public Radio that she was in a phase of searching for a better understanding of theology when "I just came across a phrase of Einstein's, which completely excited me. He said, 'Anyone who is not lost in rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe is as good as a burned-out candle.'

"And I thought, 'Oh! There's my theologian.' "

She had a long career as a public speaker, and in 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal but could not attend the ceremony because of poor health. Her newest book for young adult readers, "The Joys of Love," is scheduled for publication in the spring.

Less publicly, Ms. L'Engle struggled with difficult family relations, including her son's death from complications of alcoholism.

"I think that my characters came to me because I didn't have any family, and I wanted to have a family, and it was the only way I could get it," she told the New Yorker.

When she was reminded that she had a family, Ms. L'Engle replied: "Even so, writing the stories came out of my childhood experiences."


<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company