Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

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Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom edited by Leonard S. Marcus

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, editied by Leonard S. Marcus. New York: Harpercollins, 2000/1998; paperback; 445 pp.

A fascinating look at how some of the most influential Harpers authors of the midcentury came into print: Margaret Wise Brown and E. B. White, among others, and also at the social milieu of New York publishing in the middle of the last century.  I read all 446 pages straight through a few years ago, and the aggression and tenacity became pretty tiresome, but apparently that's what it takes to unearth great new books and change the direction of children's publishing!  Editors don't have the leisure to develop authors in quite the same way today. An interesting book to have on hand and dip into.

Amazon Review:

Ursula Nordstrom, editorial director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 and a formidable creative force in 20th-century children's book publishing, was responsible for polishing and shepherding countless dog-eared classics from Where the Wild Things Are to Charlotte's Web to Harriet the Spy. One of the most remarkable things about this extraordinary woman was her prolific correspondence with her cherished team of children's book authors and illustrators, all of whom she liked to call "Genius." Fortunately, many of her letters--warm, witty, temperamental, flattering, extravagant, self-deprecating, sympathetic, and always human--have been culled from HarperCollins's archives, gathered from many generous individuals, and arranged in chronological order by the noted biographer and critic Leonard S. Marcus. The result is Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, complete with black-and-white photographs, extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

In this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at children's book publishing, letters to Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Steptoe, and Kay Thompson reveal a woman on an unorthodox quest to wrench children's literature from the stultifying clutches of sentimental illusion and false piety. Her dedication to creative, honest, original, non-condescending books for children changed the landscape of children's literature forever. As Marcus writes in his introduction, "...her letters have much to tell about the arts of writing, illustrating, and editing; the social history of the twentieth century; and the pivotal role that books, and a love of books, can play in children's lives. To read the letters is to receive a many-faceted education from a teacher of rare insight, good humor, and lively humanity. I am glad that readers will now be able to share in the experience."