Cynthia Voigt

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Cynthia Voigt Biography

Cynthia Voigt is all about family. Though her written work covers a wide variety of topics, she is best known for the Tillerman saga, a series of family stories played out over seven books. The abandonment of the Tillerman children in the first book of the series serves as the catalyst for the entire cycle as the children struggle to find some sense of normalcy. For writers of previous generations, the nuclear family was the norm in children’s literature. But in the nontraditional worlds Voigt created, she writes beautifully of children whose background and parentage had previously been underrepresented.

Facts and Trivia

  • Before embarking on her career as a writer of youth fiction, Voigt worked in both advertising and education.
  • Voigt was born in Boston and educated at Smith College. As a result, Massachusetts settings recur in her writing.
  • Voigt’s writing process is, by her own description, something akin to assembling a puzzle: once ideas begin to formulate, she writes to see how the pieces fit together.
  • Though the Tillerman Cycle is her most famous book series, Voigt has written several others, including the Kingdom series that take place in the medieval period.
  • The second book in Voigt’s Tillerman Cycle, Dicey’s Song, won the prestigious Newbery Medal, an honor specifically created for achievement in children’s literature.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 687

Cynthia Irving Voigt (voyt) has produced dozens of young adult novels. Dicey’s Song merited the Newbery Medal in 1983 and the American Library Association (ALA) Best Children’s Book citation. A Solitary Blue was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1984 and the ALA Best Young Adult Book. Although many of her other novels have received awards and favorable reviews, Voigt says the real pleasure of being an author comes during the writing itself. She continues to write prolifically from her home in Deer Isle, Maine.

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Frederick C. and Elise (Keeney) Irving provided a stable home in rural Connecticut for their daughter Cynthia, her two sisters, and twin brothers. She attended Dana Hill boarding school in Massachusetts, where she developed self-reliance. During her youth, Voigt read books that stimulated her mind and imagination and influenced her to become a writer. She graduated from Smith College in 1963 and began working for an advertising agency in New York City.

In 1964 she married and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she attended college long enough to earn a teaching certificate. Previously, she had vowed never to teach, but she discovered that she loved her young students and the classroom setting. In 1965 she moved to the East Coast and taught at Glen Burnie, Maryland, and then at The Key School in Annapolis. In 1971, her daughter, Jessica, was born. That same year, she divorced her husband. In 1974 she married Walter Voigt, a teacher of classical languages at The Key School. In 1977 her son, Peter (Duffle), was born. A reduced teaching schedule allowed her to begin writing Tell Me if the Lovers Are Losers and The Callender Papers. These novels received recognition after her award-winning successes with Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, and A Solitary Blue.

Voigt’s Tillerman series includes Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, A Solitary Blue, The Runner, Come a Stranger, Sons from Afar, and Seventeen Against the Dealer. Some of the issues confronting her well-drawn characters include child abandonment, alienation from adults, poverty, racism, and physical and emotional changes that occur during adolescence. Voigt’s inspiration for the series came after she saw a group of children waiting in a car parked in front of a supermarket. She wondered to herself what would happen if nobody ever came back for those kids. Her fictional answer to that question began with Homecoming, as Dicey Tillerman and her abandoned siblings, James, Maybeth, and Sammy, begin an arduous journey from New England to their grandmother’s home in Maryland.

A Solitary Blue, Sons from Afar, and Seventeen Against the Dealer are sequels to Homecoming and Dicey’s Song. The Tillerman family and their friends continue to struggle with emotional handicaps that threaten future maturity and happiness. The Runner and Come a Stranger are prequels. The story of the children’s uncle, “Bullet” Tillerman, in The Runner gives insight into Gram’s stubborn, eccentric personality when her needy grandchildren arrive in Homecoming. Mina Smith’s previous experience with racism and rejection in Come a Stranger explains why she befriends Dicey.

Voigt’s preference for writing a series allows her to develop characters beyond the pages of one book. Her historical adventure novels Jackeroo, On Fortune’s Wheel, The Wings of a Falcon, and Elske have a medieval, Viking-like setting and courageous protagonists with generational family ties. In the course of the series, a masked woman bandit robs the rich to help her destitute community, pirates kidnap youths and sell them into slavery, heroic youths escape and return home, and a clever girl restores the rightful queen to the throne.

Voigt’s series Bad Girls involves preteens Margalo and Mikey as they scheme to achieve popularity in middle school. Each girl has a unique personality. Always clever and mischievous, they combine talents to confront authorities in the classroom, peers on the playground, and parents getting a divorce. Adolescent crushes, social cliques, athletic competition, and fashion consciousness contribute to their humorous situations.

Family relationships undergird most of Voigt’s other fiction. Her well-developed characters strive for resolution of realistic teenage conflicts and situations involving self-discovery, physical disabilities, the rock music business, drugs, ethnic prejudices, homosexuality, and incest.

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