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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