Lowry at the 2016 Texas Book Festival
|Born||Lois Ann Hammersberg|
March 20, 1937
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
|Genre||Children's literature, fantasy|
|Notable awards||Newbery Medal |
Margaret Edwards Award
|Spouse||Donald Grey Lowry (1956-1977; divorced; 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughters)|
Lois Lowry (born Lois Ann Hammersberg on March 20, 1937) is an American writer. As an author, Lowry is known for writing about difficult subject matter within works geared towards children. She has explored such complex issues as racism, terminal illness, murder, and the Holocaust, among other challenging topics. She has also explored controversial issues around the questioning of authority, such as in The Giver Quartet. Her writing on such matters has brought her both praise and criticism. In particular, The Giver (the first novel in the Quartet) has been met with a diversity of reactions from schools in America since its release in 1993; some schools have adopted it as a part of the mandatory curriculum, while others have prohibited the book's inclusion in classroom studies.
Lowry has won two Newbery Medals: for Number the Stars in 1990 and The Giver in 1994. Her book Gooney Bird Greene won the 2002 Rhode Island Children's Book Award. A film adaptation of The Giver was released in 2014.
For her contributions as a children's writer, she was a finalist in 2000, and a U.S. nominee again in 2004, as well as a finalist in 2016, for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest recognition available to creators of children's books. In 2007, she received the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association for her contributions writing for teens. In 2011 she gave the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture; her lecture was titled "UNLEAVING: The Staying Power of Gold". She was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Brown University in 2014.
Lowry was born on March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to parents Katherine Gordon Landis and Robert E. Hammersberg. Her father was of Norwegian descent and her mother had German, English, and Scots-Irish ancestry. Initially, Lowry's parents named her "Cena" for her Norwegian grandmother but upon hearing this, her grandmother telegraphed and instructed Lowry's parents that the child should have an American name. Her parents chose the names Lois and Ann, which were the names of Lois's father's sisters.
Lowry's father had a career as a military officer - an Army dentist - whose work moved the family all over the United States and to many parts of the world. Lowry and her family moved from Hawaii to Brooklyn, New York, in 1940 when Lowry was three years old. She attended kindergarten at the Berkeley Institute and relocated in 1942 to her mother's hometown, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when Lowry's father was deployed to the Pacific during World War II. Lowry's father served on a hospital ship called the USS Hope and on the island of Tinian during the war.
Following World War II, Lowry and her family moved to the Washington Heights military housing complex in Tokyo, Japan, where her father was stationed from 1948-1950. Lowry went through junior high school at the Tokyo American School at Meguro, a special school for the children of military families and expats, and then returned to the United States to attend high school. Lowry and her family briefly lived in Carlisle again in 1950 before moving to Fort Jay at Governors Island, New York, where Lowry attended Curtis High School on Staten Island. In 1952, she entered Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she finished high school.
Lowry entered Pembroke College in Brown University in 1954 and continued at the school for two years, departing after her marriage to Donald Grey Lowry, a U.S. Navy officer, in 1956. Together, they had four children: daughters Alix and Kristin, and sons Grey and Benjamin.
The Lowry family moved quite frequently in their early years of marriage due to Donald's military career. They lived in California, Connecticut (where Alix was born), Florida (where Grey was born), South Carolina, and finally Cambridge, Massachusetts (where Kristin and Benjamin were born). The family settled in Cambridge after Donald left military service to attend Harvard Law School. After Donald Lowry finished law school, the family moved to Portland, Maine.
While raising her children, Lowry completed her degree in English literature at the University of Southern Maine in Portland in 1972. After earning her B.A., she continued at the school to pursue graduate studies. It was during this coursework that she was introduced to photography, which became a lifelong passion as well as a profession. Several of the jackets on her books, including Number the Stars and The Giver, use her photographs. Her specialty was child photography, but she also took pictures to accompany the articles she submitted as a freelance journalist. Her freelance work for Redbook magazine generated her first book opportunity. Her story for the magazine was meant for adults but written from a child's perspective. A Houghton Mifflin editor recognized her talent and suggested that she write a children's book. Lowry agreed and wrote A Summer to Die which Houghton Mifflin published in 1977 when she was 40 years old. She and Donald Lowry divorced that same year. Lowry said about those transitional years of her life, "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."
In 1979, having moved to Boston, she went to buy Massachusetts insurance for her car, and the head of the insurance agency, Martin Small, invited her out for coffee. In 1980 they bought a condo together and spent over thirty years together until his death in 2011.
Writing about both humorous and serious issues has sustained Lois Lowry through her own hard times. Her son Grey, a USAF major, was killed in the crash of his fighter plane in 1995. Lowry has acknowledged that this was the most difficult day of her life, but through her steady work as an author, she has persevered. Lowry said, "His death in the cockpit of a warplane tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth." Later, Benjamin (Lowry's son) and his wife had a baby named Grey, in memory of Ben's brother, along with another child named Rhys who is younger. Grey himself left a baby girl, Nadine, who is now completing a master's degree at The University of Trier, in Germany, and will be a teacher of languages.
Today, Lois Lowry remains active by not only continuing to write and speak at appearances, but also enjoying time at her homes in Maine and Florida. She takes pleasure in reading, knitting, gardening, and spending time with her four grandchildren. Since 2015 her partner, whom she calls her "spouse equivalent," has been Dr. Howard Corwin (Harvard 1954, Harvard Medical School 1958).
Lowry wrote of her hope for the future recently on her blog, "I am a grandmother now. For my own grandchildren - and for all those of their generation - I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another."
Lowry says that she is not particularly religious but that she respects all religions and deplores the conflicts they cause. She likes the comment of the Dalai Lama: "My religion is kindness."
The ALA Margaret Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Lowry won the annual award in 2007 for The Giver alone (published 1993). The citation observed that "The Giver was one of the most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000" -- that is, the object of "a formal, written attempt to remove a book from a library or classroom." According to the panel chair, "The book has held a unique position in teen literature. Lowry's exceptional use of metaphors and subtle complexity make it a book that will be discussed, debated and challenged for years to come...a perfect teen read."
In 1994, Lowry was awarded the Regina Medal.
In 2014, Lowry was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Brown University. In addition, she holds honorary degrees from The University of Southern Maine, Elmhurst College, Wilson College, St. Mary's College, and Lesley University.
Children's book series
Also to receive honorary degrees were Lois Lowry, award-winning children's author best known for "The Giver"