Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
A much-honored writer of children’s literature, Virginia Esther Hamilton was awarded every major award for her stories. Beginning with the Nancy Block Memorial Award of New York for her first book, Zeely, she has received the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best juvenile mystery, the Newbery Medal (becoming the first African American writer to receive it), the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the National Book Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. In 1995, she received a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Hamilton was born and raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and her talent as a writer became evident at an early age. She went on to Antioch College, where she studied creative writing. She concentrated on short stories; one of her models was Carson McCullers. Upon leaving Antioch, she went to Ohio State University for a period but then moved to New York City with the intention of attending the New School for Social Research. In New York she met and married poet Arnold Adoff. Their honeymoon to North Africa was credited by Hamilton with having been an influence on her book Zeely.
Zeely was developed from one of her short stories after a book editor encouraged Hamilton to switch from short fiction to long fiction for children. It tells the unusual story of a young girl’s fascination with a neighbor woman, Zeely, who resembles a Watusi princess. Chosen as an American Library Association Notable Book for 1967, it was also awarded the Nancy Block Memorial Award because its handling of the black experience promoted racial understanding. Well received critically, the book...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Farrell, Kirby. “Virginia Hamilton’s Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush and the Case for a Radical Existential Criticism.” Contemporary Literature 31, no. 2 (Summer, 1990): 161-176. A detailed analysis from a psychological perspective.
Giovanni, Nikki. Review of M. C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton. The New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1974, 8. Provides an analysis of Hamilton’s appeal, which Giovanni attributes to her realism, her characterization, and her uniting “the forces of hope with the forces of dreams.” A brief but perceptive article.
Hamilton, Virginia. “The Mind of a Novel: The Heart of the Book.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 8 (Winter, 1983): 10-14. Hamilton emphasizes persistent themes in her works, such as the importance of place and family. Explains her use of language, nonverbal communication, and dialect. A lengthy section on the importance of Africa in her thought and fiction is especially valuable.
Hamilton, Virginia. “Talking with Virginia Hamilton.” Interview by Yolanda Robinson Coles. American Visions 10 (December/January, 1995): 31-32. Hamilton credits her family with being the main source of her stories and storytelling skills. She compares her calling as a storyteller to the griot’s role in African American culture. Provides valuable insight into her work as a whole.
Hamilton, Virginia. “Writing the Source: In Other Words.” The Horn Book Magazine 14 (December, 1978): 609-619. Comments on the genesis of her works, emphasizing the importance of the revision process. Also discusses the genres that appeal to her and makes interesting observations about her relationship to black literature in general.
Mikkelsen, Nina. Virginia Hamilton. New York: Twayne, 1994. The first book-length study of Hamilton’s work. Mikkelsen presents a biographical portrait and then analyzes Hamilton’s fiction, biographies, folklore collections, and fantasy. In-depth literary criticism of each book to 1995 is offered.
Paterson, Katherine. “Family Visions.” The New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1982, 41, 56. A highly laudatory review of Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. Paterson challenges readers to read the first paragraph of the book and “then stop—if you can.”
Scholl, Kathleen. “Black Traditions in M. C. Higgins, the Great.” Language Arts 17 (April, 1980): 420-424. Drawing on scholarly sources, this essay traces in detail the use of folklore, song, and myth in Hamilton’s novel.
Townsend, John Rowe. “Virginia Hamilton.” In A Sounding of Storytellers. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1979. A thorough overview of Hamilton’s early fiction.