(Please note that this page was compiled by IPL staff who corresponded with this author in 1996. It has not been updated since. Those wishing to write to this author should not write to the IPL. They should write her through the e-mail listed on her official website at: http://www.loislowry.com/ )
I’ve always felt that I was fortunate to have been born the middle child of three. My older sister, Helen, was very much like our mother: gentle, family-oriented, eager to please. Little brother Jon was the only boy and had interests that he shared with our father; together they were always working on electric trains and erector sets, and later, they always seemed to have their heads under the raised hood of a car.
That left me in-between, and exactly where I wanted to be: on my own. I was a solitary child who lived in the world of books and my own imagination.
Because my father was a career military officer—an army dentist—I lived all over the world. I was born in Hawaii, moved from there to New York, spent the years of World War II in my mother’s Pennsylvania hometown, and from there went to Tokyo when I was eleven. High school was back in New York City, but by the time I went to college (Brown University in Rhode Island), my family was living in Washington, D.C.
I married young. Women did that so often in those days. I had just had my nineteenth birthday—finished my sophomore year in college—when I married a naval officer and continued the odyssey that military life requires. California. Connecticut. Florida. South Carolina. Finally, Cambridge, Massachusetts, when my husband left the service and entered Harvard Law School; and then to Maine—by this time with four children under the age of five in tow.
My children grew up in Maine. So did I. I returned to college at the University of Southern Maine, got my degree, went to graduate school, and finally began to write professionally, the thing I had dreamed of doing since those childhood years when I had endlessly scribbled stories and poems in notebooks.
After my marriage ended in 1977, when I was forty, I settled into the life I have led ever since. Today I live and write in West Cambridge, in a house dominated by a very shaggy Tibetan Terrier named Bandit. Weekends find me in New Hampshire, where we have an early nineteenth century farmhouse surrounded by flower gardens, woods, and wildlife.
My books have varied in content and style. Yet it seems to me that all of them deal, essentially, with the same general theme: the importance of human connections. A Summer to Die, my first book, is a fictionalized retelling of the early death of my sister, and of the effect of such a loss on a family. Number the Stars, set in a different culture and era, tells of the same things: the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.
A new book, The Giver, takes place against the background of yet another very different culture and time. Though broader in scope than my earlier books, it nonetheless speaks to the same concern: the vital need for humans to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment.
I think it is my grown children, all of them grown now, who have caused me to expand my view. One of my sons is a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force; as a mother during the Gulf War, I was newly stunned into fear for the world and a heightened awareness of the necessity to find a way to end conflict. One of my daughters has become disabled as a result of a disease of the central nervous system; through her, I have a new and passionate awareness of the importance of human connections that transcend physical differences.
And I have grandchildren now. For them, I feel a greater urgency to do what I can to convey the knowledge that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future as human beings depends upon our caring more, for one another.
contributed by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mifflin Company
222 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Did you like writing AUTUMN STREET?
I especially like writing this book for two reasons: one, the fact that it was autobiographical, so most of the people in the book were real, were people I loved greatly in the past (most now dead); and the setting was a real place, the place that permeates my childhood and to which I return again and again in memory. Secondly, I liked the particular voice of the book: the voice of an adult, a grown woman, but seeing through the child’s eyes. It’s a particularly unusual method of writing (most books writing of a child’s perceptions try to use the child’s voice; most using the adult voice then see the childhood world filtered through adult eyes) and it makes the book a difficult one for the publisher to categorize: children’s book? adult book??? I really value my publisher—Houghton Mifflin—because they don’t make me adjust my writing to their marketing needs. It is my editor, most of all—Walter Lorraine—who perceives that the writer should not be driven by business decisions.
- What inspired you to write THE GIVER?
Inspirations for THE GIVER are so varied that it would be tough to answer that question without writing reams, and I can’t do that here. BOOKLIST published an article (by me) about the origins of the book—or some of them; and the Newbery Acceptance speech (published in HORN BOOK) gives a more complete description.
- Why did you choose to write THE GIVER from the third person point-of-view?
I never consciously chose a point-of-view. Some books, or stories, seem to need to be written from one viewpoint, some from another. I can go back, later, sometimes, and identify why a point-of-view works for a particular book. RABBLE STARKEY, for example, had to be in the first person because the voice was unique and it had to be told in that voice, not an authorial voice. It never occurred to me to write THE GIVER in anything other than the third person. I think the concreteness, the impersonality of the world I was attempting to create required the limited omniscient viewpoint. Limited because I needed, as well, to be inside Jonas’s head. In addition, THE GIVER, could not be written in the first person and retain the ambiguity of its ending. I know a lot of people would like the ending more spelled out and wrapped up nicely; but I prefer it to be open-ended; and it’s almost impossible to do that if you’re writing in the first person.
- Did your time in Japan influence your writing?
My childhood in Japan (ages 11,12 and 13) influenced me, of course, even though I haven’t specifically set fiction there. Those years are crucial to a child’s intellectual and emotional development. That I happened to spend them in Japan probably simply added an awareness at that age of cultural differences, of feelings of alienation, and an appreciation of the richness of history and geography that I would not have had so young if I had stayed in small-town Pennsylvania. Everything a writer experiences as a young person goes into the later writing in some form.
- What are your best writing situations?
I write at home, in my quiet office, at my computer. I write in my head in other situations all the time. But I’m a pragmatic person. I don’t romanticize fiction-writing. It’s hard work, best done in the appropriate and most comfortable setting.
- When are the times you usually get most of your ideas?
Times for ideas? Everywhere, all the time. Phrases, fragments, small snippets of dialogue, the face (or name) of a character. Something visual: the way the light falls on a porch; the walk and posture of a stranger. For me (for all writers, I’m certain) the world is a constant barrage of the imagination. And words, too. If you’ll forgive the overly personal reference here: when my son was killed recently, I received that terrible news on the telephone, at 5:30 AM, awakened from sleep. The phrase, “ruined dawn” appeared in my mind then and has been there ever since. Is that an “idea”? Not really. But it is a concept which is so strong that I know eventually it will write itself somewhere.
- What helps writing ideas come better?
Simply receptivity, I think. I don’t have any tricks. READING is the most productive thing for me, I think. If I read brilliant paragraphs I want to rush out and write brilliant paragraphs. If you listen to a great choral group, you are often inclined to hum along. Same thing with reading, I think, or at least it works that way for me.
- What inspired you to be an author? Do you ever give up?
Nothing “inspired” me to be an author. It was simply what I always wanted to do, from childhood: what I did best, loved best. If anything inspired me, it was books. And no, I never “give up”… never get bored by it, discouraged by it. Exhausted, sometimes, though.
- Do you think that you will ever write a sequel to THE GIVER?
Nope, no sequel. When people want a sequel, or think they do, what they REALLY want is more of the existing book. They want it to go on and on, which is wonderful from the author’s point of view. But a sequel is by definition a separate, different book. The suspense, climax, denouement has all already happened in the original; and you can’t make it happen again, at least not in the same way. So often sequels have been disappointments. How many of you know that there was a sequel to A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (one of my favorite books when I was 11 and 12)? How many of you liked LITTLE MEN as much as LITTLE WOMEN?
- Where did you get your idea for NUMBER THE STARS?
The idea for NUMBER THE STARS came from the remarkable and wonderful history of Denmark during the Nazi occupation, as told to me by my Danish friend Annelise, who was a child there at the time.
- Do you use a lot of kids you know in your books?
I make up the characters in my books, but of course my consciousness is filled with every child I’ve ever known, including my two grandchildren, my own kids (I had four) and especially myself as a child, because that person still lives inside me, too.
- Do you enjoy being an author?
Enjoy being an author? “Being an author” is sort of a public thing. Being a writer is what I love. That I love what I do. I love the people I meet: the children, writers, librarians, teachers, who all have the same interests I do. I love the process of putting words on a page, rearranging them, making them work somehow, hearing them slip into a sequence that sounds right….
- Which of your books do you like the best?
Books I like best? RABBLE STARKEY and AUTUMN STREET.
- What advice do you give to young people who want to be authors?
I don’t give advice to young people who want to be authors. I wish they wouldn’t focus on “being an author” (see answer to #12) so much as LOVING LANGUAGE, LOVING TO WRITE, LOVING STORIES. It bothers me a lot when I hear kids talk about publishing and all its accoutrements: agents, contracts, rejection slips. None of that has anything to do with the love of language which is the essential ingredient for a writer.
- Why did you become an author?
Aside from photography, which is—to me—related, I have never wanted to do anything but write. To shape, to create and compose, to shed light, to perceive and pass on.
- What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I read a lot. I garden (flowers, at both my houses). I am a dog lover (my dog’s a Tibetan Terrier). I love movies. I travel a lot. I spend time with my friends and my children. I lead a pretty quiet life.
- What were your thoughts on the target audience for THE GIVER?
“Target audience”…I never think about the audience when I’m writing a book.
Ms. Lowry declined to answer the many questions sent in about the ending to THE GIVER. Her response to these questions in general was as follows:
I really believe that every reader creates his/her own book, bringing to the written words their own experiences, dreams, wishes, passions. For me to EXPLAIN everything from my own viewpoint limits that experience for the reader.