Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

Ellen Raskin was born on March 13, 1928, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although she lived most of her adult life in New York City, Raskin's hometown and home state were very important to her. Raskin drew extensively on her childhood and her family as the subject matter of her novels, although the fantastic and unusual nature of the novels disguises this from the reader. Although it is clear that some of her early memories —frequent moves, anti-Semitism, Depression Era poverty—were not happy ones, she was close to her home state in later years, as a "Notable Wisconsin Author" and frequent visitor to the Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, her alma mater.

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Trained in fine art, Raskin left Wisconsin for New York City, hoping to find a career in illustrating and to provide for herself and her young daughter. She took a job doing paste-up work in a commercial art studio, and over time established herself as a free-lance illustrator and winner of dozens of prizes and awards for her work. She was eventually responsible for over one thousand book covers and over thirty sets of illustrations for other authors' books.

Some of Raskin's finest work appears in volumes of poetry for the young adult market, such as Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, selected by Dwight MacDonald (1965), and D. H. Lawrence: Poems Selected for Young People, by William Cole (1967). She also edited and illustrated a 1970 edition of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (1862) and a 1966 edition of William Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789). Raskin also composed musical settings for the Blake work. Raskin's productiveness is a tribute to her passion and hard work; although many people admired her energy and her generous contributions to the field of children's literature, few knew that she suffered from a debilitating connective tissue disorder that eventually led to her death.

In 1966, Atheneum published Nothing Ever Happens on My Block, the first of twelve picture books both written and illustrated by Raskin. The 1971 publication of The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), a full-length puzzle/mystery, marked yet another direction for her career. Once known solely as an illustrator, Raskin garnered increasing praise for her writing talents, and eventually earned the 1979 Newbery Medal as the author of The Westing Game. Raskin died on August 8, 1984, in New York City.

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