Lois Lowry Biography

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Lois Lowry was born on March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii. She attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and the University of Southern Maine, where she earned her bachelor's degree in English in 1972. Lowry divides her time between an apartment on Boston's Beacon Hill and an 1840 farmhouse in New Hampshire. Her novel Number the Stars won the Newbery Medal in 1990.

Lowry writes about the ordinary events and emotions of everyday life, such as first dates, making friends, embarrassment, and fear of failure. Lowry often contrasts the imagined and wished dreams of the young with the realities that they must confront.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lois Lowry (born Lois Hammersberg) spent her first years in a traditional family unit; her father was an Army dentist, her mother a teacher. The middle child of three, the family had moved to New York City from Hawaii shortly before the Pearl Harbor bombing, although her father spent the remaining war years in the Pacific. Her mother and siblings spent those years in Pennsylvania with her maternal grandparents. It was during this time that she began to be a solitary child who lived in the world of books and her imagination. Many hours were spent sitting on the servants’ stairs, hidden from the household mainstream, practicing writing and rewriting stories in spiral-bound notebooks. Her father’s absence created a sense of loss; it is notable that the father figures in her novels are very strong ones.

An early reader, she was so capable in first grade that she was advanced to third grade. She graduated from high school at sixteen. The next two years she attended Pembroke College, the women’s branch of Brown University. She delayed her formal education when she married naval officer Donald Grey Lowry, who later became an attorney. By the time Lois was twenty-six, she had four children. After living in several states and in Tokyo, she and her husband settled in Maine. She received her B.A. from the University of Southern Maine and, in 1972, completed a graduate degree. The marriage ended in 1977.

Her writing career began with short stories for adults and nonfiction magazine articles, for which she often took the illustrating photographs. Her first novel, A Summer to Die, was a story based on her older sister’s early death from cancer. It was written on the portable typewriter her father had given her for her thirteenth birthday. Not intended to be autobiographical, the book contained enough similarities to Lois’s life to be noticed by her mother.

In 1979, Lowry’s first Anastasia novel was published. Based on a spirited, impetuous, and irreverent heroine, the Anastasia series continues to be popular. While humor pervaded many of Lowry’s first children’s books, her most recognized works are solemn in tone, content, and subject. Number the Stars is a fact-based story of Nazi-occupied Denmark. Her dystopian novel, The Giver, describes a perfect society in which only one person can give and one can receive memories.

Her passion for photography resulted in the cover of The Giver. Sent to do a magazine article about a painter, she photographed him and was fascinated by his eyes in the portrait. Only later did she learn he was blind. Though readers frequently request a sequel to The Giver, Lowry states she wants each reader to devise the ending that is right for him or her. The Number the Stars cover also is composed of one of her photographs.

Lowry sees the importance of human connections as the theme of all of her stories, whether comic or serious. She delves into the role humans play in the lives of their fellow beings and the need for humans to be aware of their interdependence, both with the world and its environment.

Her writing reflects the child that she feels still lives inside her. According to Lowry, she rediscovers herself every time she writes a new book; writing allows her to shape, create, compose, and shed light on selected aspects of life and also allows her to deal with her frustrations, fears, and disappointments. Her stories begin with characters and develop as she moves these characters through a series of events. Titles for her books are difficult for her to choose, and she can only create the title after the book is completed. Her success has been partly attributed to her ability to view characters and situations through a child’s perspective.

In 1995 her son, Grey, was killed when his Air Force fighter plane crashed while on a military mission. When his death became the center of a Time magazine article and featured pieces on the television shows Inside Edition and 60 Minutes, Lowry felt cheated out of her right to grieve privately. She began viewing boxes of family photographs to fashion a book for Grey’s daughter. This led to the writing of her autobiography, Looking Back. Lowry lives in Cambridge Massachusetts, in an early nineteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by woods and shared with her beloved dog. She attaches great importance to friendship and families and advises young people to pay attention to these things in their lives.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Lois Lowry is an award-winning writer of children's books whose work is extremely popular with both young readers and adult critics. The daughter of a military dentist, Lowry traveled frequently as a child and young adult, living in Hawaii (where she was born in 1937), New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. An excellent reader, when she went to school Lowry was advanced from first to third grade. Books Lowry read as a child, such as The Yearling (by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1938) and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (by Betty Smith, 1943), have greatly influenced her work, particularly A Summer to Die and Autumn Street.

After attending two years of college, Lowry married a naval officer and traveled with him to California, and subsequently to South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Maine. Her love of Maine and her talent as a photographer are evident in Here at Kennebunkport, a collection of her photographs which she published in 1978. After giving birth to four children in five years, Lowry returned to college. Upon graduation, she edited textbooks, such as Black American Literature and Literature of the American Revolution, worked as a free-lance journalist and photographer, and published short fiction for adults which often dealt with childhood.

At the encouragement of an editor who had read her short stories, Lowry decided to try writing for children and young adults. As she explains in an autobiographical sketch, she found herself growing up to become someone different from the person she was when she married. Lowry's first novel, A Summer to Die, was published the same year she divorced her husband and, shortly thereafter, she moved to Boston where she now lives.
Lowry has continued to write for both children and young adults. To date, Lowry has published twenty-one novels, works which include autobiographical, historical, humorous, and problem fiction and which treat such diverse topics as moving to a new neighborhood, sibling rivalry, adoption, prejudice, poverty, racial violence, terminal illness, and death. Lowry has won a variety of awards, including the International Reading Association Children's Book Award for A Summer to Die, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction for Rabble Starkey, and the Newbery Medal for Number the Stars and for The Giver. At the same time, her ten books about the Krupnik family and three about Caroline and J. P. Tate have ensured her continued popularity with young readers.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Two time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry was born March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her father, Major Robert E. Hammersberg, was a dentist serving in the same army hospital where Lois was born. Lois's mother, Katherine, was a schoolteacher. Lois has an older sister, Helen, and a younger brother, Jon.

In 1940, the Army moved the Hammersbergs to New York, and in 1942, after the outbreak of WWII, Lois's father was posted to the Pacific theater. Lois's mother then moved Lois and her sister to Amish Country in Pennsylvania to live near her mother's family. This early, prolonged separation from her beloved father and the very close relationships that it engendered between Lois, her mother, and her two siblings strongly influenced many of the books that she would later write.

Jealous of her older sister's newly learned skill and fascinated by the relationship between letters and sounds, Lois learned to read when she was only three years old. Lois has always liked doing things on her own terms and in her own way. Even as a very young girl, she preferred reading to the more typical children's games and pastimes. Partly because of her exceptional reading ability, Lois was allowed to skip second grade and graduated from an all girls' high school at the age of sixteen. Even then she knew she wanted to become a novelist.

When Lois was nineteen, she dropped out of college to marry an young naval officer, becoming Lois Lowry. She has four children and many grandchildren, many of whom would figure prominently in Lois's many novels. In 1973, at the age of thirty-six, Lois finally received a college degree. She began publishing short stories soon after. Her first novel, A Summer to Die, about a teenager's struggle to come to terms with her older sister's death, was published in 1977. Illustrating the many parallels between Lois's own experiences and her stories, Lois lost her own older sister to cancer when Helen was just twenty-eight. Loss of a loved one is a frequent theme in Lowry's novels. Lowry was divorced at age forty, just as she was beginning her writing career.

Lowry's many succeeding novels continue to chronicle the lives of typical adolescents who have found themselves in exceptional times or situations. Notable among these are the several novels featuring her precocious teenage protagonist, Anastasia Krupnik, whom Lowry claims she patterned after her two "quite nutty" daughters. In addition to patterning many of her characters after family members and friends, Lowry's novels are often partly autobiographical in nature. For instance, Autumn Street is about how a character named Elizabeth Lorimer moves into her grandfather's house in Pennsylvania at the outset of WWII, just as Lowry herself had done. Lowry has always had an affinity for animals, especially horses and dogs. All of Lowry's novels involve animals in some way, often a dog, like Branchie in Gathering Blue.

Lowry claims she always starts a book knowing how it will begin and how it will end. She writes on a regular basis, whenever she is at home. She advises others who want to write for young people to read as much as possible, reflecting her own lifelong love of books and reading.


(Novels for Students)

Lois Lowry was bom March 20. 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her parents, Katharine (Landis) and Robert E. Hammersberg (an army dentist), were separated at the onset of World War II. Lowry spent the war years in Pennsylvania, where her mother's family lived. Early childhood influences included the presence of the Amish and an adoring grandfather. In 1948, when Lowry was eleven, the family was reunited in Japan, where her father was then stationed. In her 1994 Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech, she identified her experiences in Tokyo— living in the close confines of an American enclave named Washington Heights and making exciting forays on her bicycle into the Japanese streets—as amongst the significant memories which led to the writing of The Giver.

Lowry was educated at boarding school and Pembroke College. She attended Brown University but left after two years to marry an attorney, Donald Grey Lowry. She began writing seriously in the early 1970s, after all of her four children (born within a span of five years) were in high school. She was divorced in 1977, the year in which her first novel, A Summer to Die, was published. Prior to that, she had written two textbooks and a number of magazine articles and short stories.

This first novel described the relationship of two adolescent girls—thirteen-year-old Meg and her older sister, Molly, who is dying of leukemia. Meg gains sympathy and therapeutic friendship from an old neighbour, Will Banks, who encourages her interest in photography. (Lowry was, at the time of writing the novel, pursuing a parallel career as a semi-professional photographer. Her photographic work was used in a 1978 book called Here in Kennebunkport and on the dust jacket for The Giver.) The relationship between the two sisters in the novel also had a real-life correlation. Lowry's own elder sister, Helen, had died of cancer at a relatively young age.

Lowry's second novel, Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye (1978), confronted the issue of an adolescent, adopted child's search for her natural mother, but her third children's book was lighter in tone, and turned out to be the first in a series of comic novels about Anastasia Krupnik. In the first, eponymous title, Anastasia Krupnik is a feisty and rebellious ten-year-old. By the time the series had reached its ninth title—with Anastasia, Absolutely (1996)—she was an equally rebellious, but increasingly self-doubting thirteen-year-old.

Lowry had won several awards for previous novels, but it was her 1989 war novel, Number the Stars, which brought her her first really prestigious prize, the Newbery Medal. Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark, the book tells about the adventures of ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, as her family helps the resistance movement to convey Jews into the safety of neutral Sweden. The Newbery Medal was awarded to Lowry a second time for The Giver, a book completely unlike the Anastasia stories. Those, in the words of Michael Cart, writing in the New York Times, colorfully depict a "believably flourishing functioning family," whereas the Community in The Giver functions clinically, according to a strict set of principles. One by one the rules and routines of the Community are clearly delineated. Jonas's apprehension as his twelfth birthday (the end of childhood and the time when the Chief Elder will announce individual Assignments) approaches is matched by the reader's growing unease at the description of community life.