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.