The world wants to shove us into what it considers the appropriate pigeonhole. I do not like to be labelled as a “Christian children’s writer” because I fear that this will shove me even further into the pigeonhole which began to be prepared for me when A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery medal. If I am so labelled, then the implication is that I am to be read only by children, and Christian children at that. Though the chief reason that Wrinkle was rejected for over two years and by thirty-odd publishers was because it is a difficult book for many adults, the decision was made to market it as a children’s book; it won a medal for children’s books. Therefore, I am a children’s writer, and that is all I’m allowed to be.
~Madeline L’Engle, from Walking on Water; Reflections on Faith & Art
Dorothea Lange was born on this day, May 26th in 1895. She became famous for her portrayal of The Great Depression through photography; especially her portfolio of children. Her work is closely associated with the literary achievement of John Steinbeck. When Steinbeck set out to write East of Eden, he knew it would be a multi-generational epic and his most challenging project to date (if not a lifetime.) To our great fortune, he wrote a journal throughout the process which has now been published as Journal of a Novel. In it, he wrote of the great care he exercised when writing from a child’s point of view. For John Steinbeck, as for Lange, a child’s lucid vision captured the essentials. Steinbeck scrawled reminders to himself: capture a “child’s vision” because “adults haven’t the clear fine judgment of children.” That meant to write with precision, freshness, and truth.
In his book The Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote:
We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields? A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men.
In Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle writes:
I’m a writer. That’s enough of a definition. (I infinitely prefer to say that I am a Christian than to mention any denomination, for such pigeonholing is fragmenting, in religion as in art.) So. I am a Christian. I am a writer. When I am grappling with ideas which are radical enough to upset grownups, then I am likely to put these ideas into a story which will be marketed for children because children understand what their parents have rejected and forgotten. Because I am a struggling human being; trying to make sense out of the meaninglessness of much of life in this century and daily searching for revelatory truth in Scripture, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever want to write novels of pessimism or porno, no matter how realistic my work. But I don’t want to be shut in, labelled, the key turned, so that I am not able to grow and develop, as a Christian, as a writer. I want that freedom which is a large part of the Christian promise, and I don’t want any kind of label to diminish that freedom. It is sad and ironic to have to admit that it does.
L’Engle argued that the artist must be like a child in his or her openness to mystery, to story, and to truth. Yet, she also claims that art for children is the “most looked-down-on of all.”
Is a child’s perspective greater or less than an adult’s?
L E A R N M O R E
(1895–1965). The stark photographs of the victims of the Great Depression of the 1930s that were made by Dorothea Lange were a major influence on succeeding documentary and journalistic photographers. She has been called the greatest documentary photographer of the United States.
Dorothea Lange was born in Hoboken, N.J., on May 26, 1895. She first studied photography under Clarence White, a member of a well-known group of photographers called the Photo-Secession. At the age of 20 Lange decided to travel around the world, earning money as she went by selling her photographs. Her money ran out in San Francisco, where she settled and opened a portrait studio in 1916.
During the depression Lange photographed the homeless men who wandered the streets. Such pictures as White Angel Breadline, shot in 1932, showed the hopelessness of these men and received immediate recognition from the renowned photographers of Group f.64. This led to Lange’s being hired by the federal Resettlement Administration (later called the Farm Security Administration) to bring the conditions of the poor to public attention. Her photographs of California’s migrant workers, captioned with the subjects’ own words, were so effective that the state established camps for the migrants.
In 1939 Lange published a collection of her photographs called An American Exodus: a Record of Human Erosion. Two years later she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which she gave up in order to record with her camera the mass evacuation of Japanese-Americans in California to detention camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Following World War II, Lange did a number of photo essays for Life magazine. On Oct. 11, 1965, she died in San Francisco after a long illness.
“Lange, Dorothea,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).