Lowry, Lois

Back to Work: An Interview with Lois Lowry


The theme of books being challenged and even banned is (unfortunately) nothing new. It seems appropriate, then, that the subject of this article is Lois Lowry, who is perhaps best known for writing The Giver, a book with which schools and libraries seem to have a love-hate relationship as it is common curriculum material in some schools but has been banned in others. Lowry is the author of many books for both adults and children and has won two Newbery medals (Number the Stars in 1990, The Giver in 1994). She is particularly well-known for tackling difficult and complex subjects in her books, so we asked if there’s anything she knows she’d never write about. “I don’t like saying ‘never’ to anything because it closes doors in a very permanent way,” she replied. “On the other hand, I’m eighty-five years old. I don’t have a lot of time left for new explorations. But (isn’t there always a but?) I’d hate to spend my remaining time doing safe and familiar things. So I guess the answer is that there is nothing I wouldn’t be willing—even eager— to tackle.  But it would all depend on timing, opportunity, and energy.”

Something she’s mentioned in other interviews is the autobiographical elements in her books, including her first book A Time to Die. However, “an even more autobiographical book was Autumn Street, published in 1980,” she said. “As in A Summer to Die, the narrator/protagonist was my own younger self. Writing those two books involved looking back through my adult eyes, presumably with some acquired wisdom, and reimagining my own memories of very painful times. In both cases it was an emotional and freeing experience.” The autobiographical elements continue into her new book The Windeby Puzzle, but in a different way. The Windeby Puzzle (forthcoming February 2023 from Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollins), is a mixture of story and history, combining fictional elements with the discovery of the 2,000-year-old Windeby bog body in northern Germany. “I appear there, of course,” Lowry said, “but as my adult self, and in a more objective way. The book is not about me; it simply describes the process I went through to write it.”

At 85, Lowry is an author still going strong. In today’s world of technology ever at our fingertips, Lowry says technology hasn’t changed her writing process, but more how she feels about the finished product. “After [The Giver], I got a real computer and my writing life changed dramatically. The problem that then appeared—and remains—is knowing when to stop.  It’s so easy to go back and change things. So you fiddle and re-write and delete and transpose until finally: Whooosh—off it goes to the editor. But then you start thinking things like: maybe chapter 14 should have been divided into two parts. Learning to let go of it is the hard part now.” This is compared to her first book (A Summer to Die) and “many that followed it,” which “were all written on a typewriter. Using carbon paper. Anyone remember carbon paper?  If I wanted to change something, to revise, it meant re-typing: not just that page, but all the pages that followed, because the formatting would be thrown off. Typos were hard to correct. (Remember White-out?)  No copying machines back then, and I kept unpublished manuscripts in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator so that they’d survive if the house burned down.” (Any authors reading this should make note of that hiding spot.)

            This powerhouse author has no intention of stopping, and besides The Windeby Puzzle, she says she has “a middle-grade novel scheduled for publication in 2024” and that “like all of my books, it grapples with growing up and learning to deal with the complexities of human relationships. I have lots of other things in my computer: ideas, fragments…notes for something that would probably be a picture book text. At some point I’ll sort through those and pull one out and think about it and change some words and re-think and then, because this often happens, I’ll dream about it, and the main character will begin to seem real. That’s when I’ll go back to work.”

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