E(laine) L(obl) Konigsburg
Born: 1930 in New York, New York, United States
Genre: novels, humor/satire, short stories, illustration
Source Database: U*X*L Junior DISCovering Authors
Table of Contents
Biographical Essay | Career | Further Readings | Personal Information | Source Citation | View Multimedia File(s) | Works
E. L. Konigsburg is best known as an award-winning author and illustrator of humorous juvenile novels and stories. Konigsburg's books are not simply amusing, however; almost every story contains an element of seriousness, usually in the form of a child's search for identity. The volumes "have grown out of the material closest to hand, the events of her own life," declared Perry Nodelman in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Her writing is a witty distillation of complex experience, and she always tells her stories from an interesting point of view."
Konigsburg was born in New York City, the second of three daughters, and reared in small Pennsylvania towns. "Growing up in a small town gives you two things," she commented: "a sense of your place and a feeling of self-consciousness--self-consciousness about one's education and exposure, both of which tend to be limited. On the other hand, limited possibilities also means creating your own options. A small town allows you to grow in your own direction, without a bombardment of outside stimulation. You can get a sense of yourself in relation to yourself, not to a host of ccomplished others."
As a child, Konigsburg wrote in Saturday Review, she "used to read in the bathroom a lot. It was the only room in our house that had a lock on the door, and I could run water in the tub to muffle the sounds of my sobbing over Rhett Butler's leaving Scarlett. Reading was tolerated in my house, but it wasn't sanctioned like dusting furniture or baking cookies. My parents never minded what I read, but they did mind when (like before the dishes were done) and where (there was only one bathroom in our house)." "There was no one to guide my reading," she once stated, and so "consequently I read a lot of trash along the True Confessions line. I have no objection to trash. I've read a lot of it and firmly believe it helped hone my taste.
"I drew a lot as a child and was an excellent student for as long as I can remember. I graduated valedictorian from Farrell High School and wanted to go away to college. My high school had no guidance department and no one in my family had ever gone to university. I devised a plan whereby I would work for a year, earn enough for two semesters of tuition and board, go back to work to finance another academic year, and so on until I finished my degree. No one had ever told me about scholarships. Right after high school, I got a job as a bookkeeper in a wholesale meat plant," the Shenango Valley Provision Company. It was while working there that she met her future husband, David Konigsburg, the brother of one of the owners of the business.
"The following year," she explained, "I enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a chemistry major. If I had in mind eventually to be a writer and artist, the notion was so deeply submerged that I was unaware of it. Besides, if you were the first person in your family to go to college, you didn't say you were going away to become a writer. You said you were going away to become a something--a librarian, a teacher, a chemist, a something. I chose chemistry because I was good at it and there would be jobs waiting when I finished. In Farrell, I never met anyone who made his living from the arts.
"One day late in my freshman year as I was walking across campus, my English professor stopped me and inquired about my plans. When I told him that I would be returning to my job for another year, he said, `Miss Lobl, I think that this school would not choose to lose students of your ilk.' Thanks to his intervention, I was able to get a scholarship. I had jobs all through school--in the library, managing a laundry service in the dormitory--and I remained enrolled." "College was a crucial `opening up' for me," she concluded. "I worked hard and did well. However, the artistic side of me was essentially dormant. My close college friends never even knew that I could write and loved to draw. Chemistry majors spend long hours in the lab; some of our courses were full-day labs, and there was not a lot of time for much besides work and school work."
Graduating with honors, she married David Konigsburg, and studied chemistry at the graduate school of the University of Pittsburgh while he prepared himself for a career as an industrial psychologist. "I'm convinced that, had I not been such a disaster in the lab, I could have made a contribution to chemistry, something creative," she related in an interview. "I had the mind for it, but not the temperament. There was all that awful lab work to get through. And there was no one to tell me that it is only in the higher reaches that science and art are one."
When David Konigsburg obtained a post as an industrial psychologist in Jacksonville, Florida, Konigsburg accompanied him, obtaining a position of her own as a teacher of chemistry at Bartram, a private all-girls school. "I began to suspect that chemistry was not my field," she once remarked. "Not only did I always ask my students to light my Bunsen burner, having become match-shy, but I became more interested in what was going on inside them than what was going on inside the test tubes." "Going to teach in this private girls' school gave me remarkable insight into girls," she explained in an interview. "I had gone to the school with a prejudice against private schools, thinking that they catered to spoiled young women who had it all. They had all the creature comforts of the world, but I soon learned that they were just as uncomfortable inside as I was when I was growing up."
Konigsburg left teaching in 1955, shortly before the birth of her son, Paul, and took up painting in 1956, after her daughter, Laurie, was born. Three years later, she gave birth to her youngest child, Ross, and in 1962 moved with her husband and family to New York. She began writing when her youngest child went to school. "I decided that I would take the mornings--not make a bed, not do the dishes--and write," she stated. "This turned out to be easier than I expected. We had just moved to Port Chester, New York, where I knew no one, so I was spared the endless round of telephone calls from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. I kept my writing a secret except from my family. When my kids came home for lunch, I would often read them what I'd written and watch their reactions."
"When I realized that my kids' growing up was very different from my own but was related to this middle-class kind of child that I had seen when I had taught at the private girls' school," Konigsburg said in an interview, "I recognized that I wanted to write something that reflected their kind of growing up, something that addressed the problems that come about even though you don't have to worry if you wear out your shoes whether your parents can buy you a new pair, something that tackles the basic problems of who am I? What makes me the same as everyone else? What makes me different?"
Konigsburg's original intention to write books that reflected the middle-class background of her own children led to her first two books.Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, for example, was inspired by her daughter's efforts to make friends in Port Chester. It tells of two girls, one of whom regards herself as a witch, who choose to revel in their own personal oddness rather than conform to normal patterns of behavior. Her first Newbery Award-winning novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, was directly influenced by her children's behavior on a family picnic. Konigsburg writes in Forty Percent More than Everything You Want to Know about E. L. Konigsburg that after listening to her children complain about ants, warm milk, and melted cupcake icing, "I thought to myself that if my children ever left home, they would never become barbarians even if they were captured by pirates. Civilization was not a veneer to them; it was a crust. They would want at least all the comforts of home plus a few dashes of extra elegance. Where, I wondered, would they ever consider running to if they ever left home? They certainly would never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tells the story of two children who do just that. Claudia, tired of being big sister to three siblings and bored with suburbia, decides to run away from home. She takes along Jamie, her thrifty brother, for financial assistance. Their temporary home is the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they bathe in the fountain and sleep in a musty, sixteenth-century bed. While exploring the museum, they become intrigued by an angel reputed to have been sculpted by Michelangelo. Claudia is convinced that discovering the identity of the statue will help her determine her own. Their search leads them to Mrs. Frankweiler, the narrator and original owner of the statue, who helps Claudia come to an understanding about herself.
Konigsburg's first two books were published within a few months of each other. In the meantime, the Konigsburgs left Port Chester for Jacksonville, Florida. "In the midst of moving," wrote Nodelman, "Elaine Konigsburg learned of her astonishing coup." From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler had won the Newbery Medal and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was a Newbery runner-up--the first time an author had ever had two books on the Newbery list in one year. "The Newbery list," Nodelman concluded, "has not included two books by the same author before or since."
In (George), one of Konigsburg's later books, the protagonist's identity crisis is much more serious than that of the average child. Ben has had an alter ego, George, since he was a young boy. Until Ben's twelfth year, George had been known only to Ben and his immediate family. But when Ben, an exceptional student, is placed in a high school chemistry class, George begins to vocalize, thus disturbing the class. Consequently, Ben is sent to a psychiatrist who helps him merge the two personalities. George's presence has prompted some reviewers to label Ben as schizophrenic. Konigsburg has said, however, that she thinks of George as Ben's "inner self."
Other books would follow, including Up from Jericho, T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat, and Suit, and TalkTalk: A Children's Book Author Speaks to Grown-ups, a collection of nine lectures and speeches in which Konigsburg expresses her thoughts on the importance of books in the lives of young readers. In T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat and Suit, she again focuses on the lives of adolescents, this time through the eyes of twelve-year-old ChloŽ as she tries to make sense of the adult world around her. Left in the care of a free-spirited aunt over the summer, ChloŽ becomes caught up in a local controversy over whether or not people should be allowed to wear revealing bathing suits in the seaside Florida town where her aunt lives. When several women who work with Aunt Bernadette are criticized for wearing T-back, or thong, bathing suits during their rounds as food service vendors, the issue mushrooms into a debate about freedom of expression versus conformity to the religious standards of others. Gradually, ChloŽ begins to understand her aunt's seemingly contradictory position: While Bernadette has refused to join her coworkers in donning the revealing beachwear, she has also refused to take a stand against their right to wear it. The reason? Bernadette has had a mastectomy; she doesn't feel comfortable revealing her own body and also does not want to make others uncomfortable by showing her scars. While noting that T-Backs, T-Shirts "belabors the politics and reexamines some 1960s issues" in her review for Booklist, Hazel Rochman maintained that "although [Bernadette's] shame may not be politically correct feminism, it does humanize the wise strong mentor, who turns out to be as vulnerable as she is nonconformist." "Some valuable lessons will be learned by the students reading this book," added Rachel Axelrod in Voice of Youth Advocates.
The View from Saturday, published in 1996, would once again put Konigsburg squarely in the winner's circle when it netted its author her second Newbery Medal. In the novel, a group of precocious sixth graders join together under the guidance of their coach, the wheelchair-bound Mrs. Olinski, to compete in a regional Academic Bowl competition. The four students chosen--Julian, Noah, Nadia, and Ethan, nicknamed the "Souls"--although bright, were not at the top of their class; they surprise everyone by reaching the state finals and winning the Academic Bowl championship. No one is more surprised, and overjoyed, than Mrs. Olinski, who gradually comes to understand why she chose such an unlikely group of unusual young people. The novel has a unique structure, with four related stories told by four different character making up the work. The author explained in Forty Percent More Than Everything You Want to Know about E. L. Kongisburg that she chose this structure because I knew that kids would love meeting one character and then two and three, and I also knewbecause I had learned it from themthat they would think that fitting all the stories together was part of the adventure.
"Some of us have already read every book E. L. Konigsburg ever wrote...," exclaimed Beth Gutcheon in her glowing review of The View from Saturday for the New York Times Book Review, "but others are going to begin with this book and will probably find it very hard to stop before going through the whole shelf." Other reviewers were more cautious: "nothing seems and no one sounds quite real," noted Roger Sutton, commenting on the middle school-aged characters' use of sophisticated words and the plot's dependence upon coincidental interrelationships in his review in Horn Book. Janice M. Del Negro added in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Mrs. Olinski's spiritual enlightenment ... leads to a dismally self-conscious and flat ending." But School Library Journal critic Julie Cummins wrote that Konigsburg's "brilliant writing melds with crystalline characterizations in this sparkling ... jewel in the author's crown of outstanding works."
Konigsburg is often praised for the depth, wit, and sophistication of her novels. Her protagonists exhibit an extraordinary capacity for growth, even when that growth cannot be achieved without pain. Her books tend to be classified by libraries, teachers, and the press as "young adult" novels. "I have serious reservations about the young adult genre," she commented. "I think there's too much trash being published under that label, too much of the sort of thing I used to read in True Confessions--though, as I've said, I'm not against reading trash.... But I do object to trash masquerading as literature. You might say I like my trash pure and simple. What bothers me most is that too many young adult novels are not extensions of a personal history or imagination but are `novelizations' of television. They display sit-com humor, deal with the disease of the month or a current social disorder. I feel more at home in the category of `children's books,' which is an older, more literary tradition."
"I can tell you," Konigsburg explained in an interview, "that
there is no greater compliment than having your work cherished by ... someone who has read
a lot and chooses your book out of a vast experience of reading. There is also no greater
compliment than hearing from a young man in Pennsylvania, `I never liked reading until I
read you.' And ... imagine the joy of being chosen by someone who otherwise reads
only assignments. So I guess you could say that I love all my readers, for I do. I think
they are wonderful, and I like it when they think that I am. Don't we all want to be
wonderful to someone?"
Family: Born February 10, 1930, in New York, NY; daughter of Adolph (a businessman)
and Beulah (Klein) Lobl; married David Konigsburg (a psychologist), July 6, 1952;
children: Paul, Laurie, Ross. Education: Carnegie-Mellon University, B.S., 1952;
graduate study, University of Pittsburgh, 1952-54. Religion: Jewish.
Writer. Shenango Valley Provision Co., Sharon, PA, bookkeeper, 1947-48; Bartram School,
Jacksonville, FL, science teacher, 1954-55, 1960-62. Worked as manager of a dormitory
laundry, playground instructor, waitress and library page while in college; research
assistant in tissue culture lab while in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh.
|Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, Atheneum, 1967, published in England as Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, and Me, Macmillan, 1968.|
|From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Atheneum, 1967.|
|About the B'nai Bagels, Atheneum, 1969.|
|(George), Atheneum, 1970, published in England as Benjamin Dickenson Carr and His (George), Penguin, 1974.|
|A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, Atheneum, 1973.|
|The Dragon in the Ghetto Caper, Atheneum, 1974.|
|Samuel Todd's Book of Great Colors, Macmillan, 1990.|
|Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions, Atheneum, 1991.|
|Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale's, Atheneum, 1992.|
|Altogether, One at a Time (short stories), illustrated by Gail E. Haley, Mercer Meyer, Gary Parker, and Laurel Schindelman, Atheneum, 1971, 2nd edition, Macmillan, 1989.|
|The Second Mrs. Giaconda, illustrated with museum plates, Atheneum, 1975.|
|Father's Arcane Daughter, Atheneum, 1976.|
|Throwing Shadows (short stories), Atheneum, 1979.|
|Journey to an 800 Number, Atheneum, 1982, published in England as Journey by First Class Camel, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.|
|Up from Jericho Tel, Atheneum, 1986.|
|T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat, and Suit, Atheneum, 1993.|
|The View from Saturday, Atheneum, 1996.|
|TalkTalk: A Children's Book Author Speaks to Grown-ups (essays), Simon & Schuster, 1995.|
|Also author of promotional pamphlets for Atheneum. Collections of E. L. Konigsburg's manuscripts and original art are held at the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room, School of Library and Information Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.|
|From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was recorded on cassette), by Miller-Brody/Random House, 1969, and was made into a film starring Ingrid Bergman, Cinema 5, 1973, released under new title The Hideaways, Bing Crosby Productions, 1974; it was refilmed with Lauren Bacall and released on television in 1996.Jennifer and Me was a television movie based on Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth for NBC-TV, 1973; the book was also recorded on cassette by Listening Library, 1986.The Second Mrs. Giaconda was adapted as a play and first produced in Jacksonville, FL, 1976. The television movie Caroline?, based on Father's Arcane Daughter, was a Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation, 1990.About the B'nai Bagels and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler are available as Talking Books.From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is also available in Braille.|
|Axelrod, Rachel, review of T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat, and Suit, Voice of Youth
Advocates, December, 1993, p. 294.|
|Cummins, Julie, review of The View from Saturday, School Library Journal,
September, 1996, p. 204.|
|Del Negro, Janice M., review of The View from Saturday, Bulletin of the Center for
Children's Books, November, 1996.|
|Gutcheon, Beth, review of The View from Saturday, New York Times Book Review,
November 10, 1996, p. 49.|
|Konigsburg, E. L., "A Book Is a Private Thing," Saturday Review,
November 9, 1968, pp. 45-46.|
|Konigsburg, E. L., Forty Percent More Than Everything You Want to Know about E. L.
Konigsburg (pamphlet), Atheneum, 1974, revised edition, 1997.|
|Nodelman, Perry, "E. L. Konigsburg," Dictionary of Literary Biography,
Volume 52: American Writers for Children since 1960: Fiction, Gale, 1986, pp.
|Rochman, Hazel, review of T-Backs, T-Shirts, Coat, and Suit, Booklist, November
1, 1993, p. 515.|
|Sutton, Roger, review of The View from Saturday, Horn Book, January/February,
1997, pp. 60-61.|
|Children's Literature Review, Volume 1, Gale, 1976.|
|de Montreville Doris, and Donna Hill, editors, Third Book of Junior Authors, H.
W. Wilson, 1972.|
|Hauks, D. Thomas, E. L. Konigsburg, Twayne, 1992.|
|Heins, Paul, editor, Crosscurrents of Criticism: Horn Book Essays 1968-1977, Horn
|Hoffman, Miriam, and Eva Samuels, Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books:
Writings on Their Lives and Works, Bowker, 1972.|
|Hopkins, Lee Bennett, More Books by More People, Citation Press, 1974.|
|Kingman, Lee, editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1966-1975, Horn Book,
|Konigsburg, E. L., The Genesis of "A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver"
(pamphlet), Atheneum, 1973.|
|Konigsburg, E. L., How I Came to Love a Thief and Write "The Second Mrs.
Giaconda" (pamphlet), Atheneum, 1978.|
|Mainiero, Lina, American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial
Times to the Present, Volume 2, Ungar, 1980.|
|Roginski, Jim, compiler, Newbery and Caldecott Medalists and Honor Book Winners,
Libraries Unlimited, 1982.|
|Townsend, John Rowe, A Sounding of Storytellers: Essays on Contemporary Writers for
Children, Penguin Books, 1979.|
|Ward, Martha E., and Dorothy A. Marquardt, Authors of Books for Young People, 2nd
edition, Scarecrow, 1971.|
|Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1995, p. 329.|
|Chicago Tribune Book World, February 2, 1986.|
|Chicago Tribune Children's Book World, November 8, 1970.|
|Children's Literature Association Quarterly, spring, 1983, p. 6.|
|Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 1974, p. F1.|
|Horn Book, December, 1970, p. 619; August, 1971, p. 384; April, 1973, p. 179;
June, 1976, pp. 253-61; February, 1978, p. 79; April, 1980.|
|Language Arts, February, 1986.|
|Learning Today, fall, 1981.|
|Library Journal, October 15, 1967; March 15, 1968; February 15, 1970; May 15,
1971, p. 1805.|
|Library Quarterly, Volume 51, number 1, 1981.|
|New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1967, p. 44; February 25, 1968, March 30,
1969, p. 30; November 8, 1970, May 30, 1971, p. 8; October 14, 1973, p. 8; November 4,
1973; October 5, 1975; November 7, 1976; December 9, 1979; May 30, 1982; May 25, 1986.|
|Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1968.|
|Saturday Review, November 14, 1970.|
|School Library Journal, March, 1968, February, 1970, October, 1973, p. 117;
November, 1986, p. 30.|
|Times, London; June 16, 1983.|
|Times Literary Supplement, October 3, 1968; April 3, 1969; July 2, 1971; April 4,
1975; March 25, 1977; June 16, 1983.|
|Top of the News, April, 1968.|
|Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1995, p. 335.|
|Washington Post Book World, April 11, 1982; May 11, 1986.|
|Konigsburg, E. L., Profiles in Literature (videocassette), Temple University, 1983.|
L(obl) Konigburg, 1930.
Source Citation: "E(laine) L(obl) Konigsburg." U*X*L Junior DISCovering Authors. U*X*L, 1998. Reproduced in Junior Reference Collection. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. September, 1999. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/JRC/