(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Virginia (Edith) Hamilton 1936–

American novelist, biographer, critic, and editor.

Hamilton has won acclaim for her daring and imaginative fiction in which she explores a variety of themes. She blends such elements as mystery, dreams, legend, and folklore, using an intensive prose style rich in symbolism. Hamilton has helped raise the level of sophistication in young adult literature. Her protagonists are black adolescents who face problems relevant to all human beings, reflecting her belief that "the experience of a people must come to mean the experience of humankind."

Hamilton's characters often display a wildly fertile imagination. Her early works Zeely and The Planet of Junior Brown feature protagonists whose worlds of fancy become more real to them than reality. These protagonists are helped back to a more balanced view of life through sympathetic friends. The same theme is explored again in the Justice Cycle trilogy, where unchecked mental and physical powers result in disaster and a "unit" of psychic characters survives only by helping each other.

Hamilton's most celebrated work, M. C. Higgins, the Great, follows a poor boy's growing awareness of himself and his surroundings. M. C. thinks little of what he has, preferring to sit atop a pole and dream. But when his home is threatened, M. C. stops dreaming. He learns to take pride in his heritage and to be responsible for himself and others. M. C. Higgins, the Great won the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, both in 1975. Hamilton has received numerous other awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1968 for best juvenile mystery with The House of Dies Drear.

(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 4.)