Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Urgently Seeking Ursula
I recently finished reading Leonard S. Marcus' Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which follows Nordstrom's long and distinguished publishing career at Harpers Books for Boys and Girls. Wow. It's like eavesdropping on some of the most fascinating people in kid lit.
Beginning in 1937 with a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder about On The Banks of Plum Creek, when Nordstrom was an assistant to then-editor Ida Louise Raymond, and continuing through her rise to head the department and beyond, Nordstrom's letters are filled with wit, enthusiasm for her authors and illustrators, and her expert knowledge of publishing. This book is a treasure for those who want to learn about the roots of children's publishing, when authors and illustrators published with just one house for the length of their careers. People like Maurice Sendak, Else Holmelund Minarik, Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White. Fascinating.
And while the letters are filled with editorial thoughts and questions about current projects, they are not all business. They also contain the mundane details of Nordstrom's life--that the newspaper is no longer being delivered because someone ran into the mailbox, the names of her dogs, how she hated living in New York city, and her inquiries about her readers' lives and families. Her letters have the feel of a note from your witty and wonderful dear Aunt Maude. They are pre-email, pre-internet, even pre-computer. A treasure.
And as truly fascinating as the publishing history is of books like Where the Wild Things Are and Charlotte's Web, and it is fascinating, perhaps the thing that struck me most was Nordstrom's nourishment of and love for her artists and writers. She was an incredible champion for her talent. An amazing lady.