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Women writers, especially those of the past, are always subjects of fascination to me. Striving for success as writers at a time when it was practically forbidden to do so, many of these women also tend to live strictly on their own terms. As a result, these authors tend to be particularly unique people. Margaret Wise Brown is no exception.
Like many others, I had the pleasure of reading after reading Brown’s Beloved good night moon. It was a happy surprise when I found out that she and I were in the same college. The school built on Brown’s success, focusing largely on good night moon with a theatrical adaptation from the picture book. But Margaret Wise Brown is more than just good night moon. It was very clear when I read Amy Gary In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Daring Life of Margaret Wise Brown. Drawing inspiration from interviews, diaries, articles and more, Amy Gary brings the author of The runaway rabbit live. Read on to find out more about the woman behind the page.
11 facts about Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon
Brown attended a historically female college
Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Hollins College (now Hollins University) also hosted Brown’s mother (and, later, Annie Dillard). Brown graduated in 1932, 90 years after the school was founded as Valley Union Seminary. At Hollins, Brown studied English and Psychology, which would later prove to be useful subjects in his work. She was also instrumental in the creation of the equestrian team, persuading the director to add the program thanks to her legacy status and financial support from her family. The riding team remains a source of pride for Hollins today.
She was athletic
Hunting, fishing, swimming, running, boating, horseback riding – Brown has it all. Although sometimes motivated by her figure, Brown loved to be active. Sport has allowed Brown to enjoy both nature and the outdoors as well as socializing. In the prologue of In the big green roomGary writes, “She could walk alone or run behind the group in silence. Most of the time, however, she found herself chatting effortlessly for six or seven miles… ”At the time of his death, Brown was about to embark on a journey that would have provided many outlets for his need. ‘physical activity.
Her repetitive rhythmic style was heavily influenced by Gertrude Stein
A fervent admirer of the cultural influencer of her time, Brown was a close follower of Gertrude Stein. While attending a Stein lecture, Brown resumed his use of repetition. It is both a simplified and a more complex meaning. She also noted Stein’s ability to convey complex ideas with simple, straightforward language. Even without a thank you note, it’s clear to see Stein’s unambiguous impact on Brown’s work, perhaps never more clearly than in his best-known book. good night moon. Brown later helped bring Stein’s children’s book The world is round on the shelves of young readers.
Brown first worked as a teacher
Armed with the inspiration of Gertrude Stein and her background in English and psychology, Brown went to work as a teacher when she was not able to generate a steady income writing alone. She taught at the Little Red Schoolhouse in New York. The latter part of the day she would study at the Bank Street Experimental School. The teaching hours provided a great source of information on what held children’s attention in a book, the vocabulary available to them, and how they preferred to interact with a book.
She emphasized the importance of sensory details in her children’s books
Leveraging his growing and in-depth knowledge of childhood development, Brown was somewhat revolutionary in deliberately incorporating the senses into his stories. She felt it was essential to see the world from a child’s point of view. Brown allowed herself to be precise in her descriptions when visiting farms, docks and other places. His attention to sensory detail is perhaps most evident in The noisy book, which arose from an idea about a dog who, blinded by an incident of ash, walks around the city.
She had anti-Semitic views
Despite his wonder and appreciation for the world around him, Brown was not immune to the anti-Jewish propaganda that was particularly prevalent around WWII. At a dinner party with friend and creative colleague Esphyr “Phyra” Slobodkina, she admitted that she struggled with her prejudices after finding out that Phyra was Jewish. While Brown felt guilty about the prejudices she harbored – which she seemed to believe was motivated by propaganda – and wanted to make amends, the damage was done.
Her room was a real life good night moon Bedroom
An unlikely source of inspiration, Brown’s downstairs neighbor is inadvertently responsible for one of the most memorable fictional rooms. Brown once dreamed of a room that incorporated his neighbor’s color scheme – “light green walls in the living room accented by red furniture with yellow accents.” By describing the visual aspect to which it was intended good night moon, Brown recalled the decor and eventually used it in his own living space. Soon her apartment also had green and yellow walls and a red blanket for her bed. Even the fireplace in the fictional room was inspired by the one maintained by Brown.
good night moon and The dead bird Were both inspired by Brown’s own childhood experiences
Beyond the visuals of good night moon, Brown clearly drew on his childhood experiences for words. As a regular bedtime ritual, Margaret and her sister Roberta said goodnight to their business. Brown later dreamed of doing this, which sparked the idea of good night moon. Likewise, The dead bird romanticized a time when Brown, his sister, and her best friend discovered a dead bird. Brown determined that a funeral was necessary, and the three performed the sad event with solemnity and ceremony.
She was stolen from a train to Rome
An avid travel enthusiast, Brown often saved up just to hit the road. On a trip, Brown left Switzerland for Italy to meet his collaborator for her book Fox eyes, Garth Williams. During the train ride Margaret had the misfortune to share a compartment with an ill-intentioned man. After chloroforming the writer, the man stole her, leaving only – and luckily – his journals and manuscripts with her.
She had ties to the Carnegie and Rockefeller families
In addition to a long-standing connection with the Barrymores of actor Drew Barrymore’s ancestry – more on that relationship in the following fact – Brown has also rubbed elbows with the Carnegies and Rockefellers. As a child, Brown and his sister spent time on a farm owned by his cousin, Dr Marius Johnston, who married Nancy Carnegie (the daughter of industrialist Thomas Carnegie, who was Andrew Carnegie’s brother of the inheritance from the Carnegie Library). As for the Rockefellers, Brown got engaged to James “Pebble” Stillman Rockefeller Jr., whom she met at a dinner party as an adult. Before long, she realized that she had already met him. Fifteen years his senior, Brown had played with the young Rockefeller as a child.
She had relationships with men and women
While Rockefeller was Brown’s last relationship, his longest – and perhaps most tumultuous – was with writer Michael Strange. Strange, who adopted a masculine name and dress style but, to current knowledge, has never identified that she was transgender, was previously married and had a child with actor John Barrymore. Strange and Brown were in an almost constant struggle with each other, including involving Strange’s daughter, Diana Barrymore, and the taboo of sharing their romance publicly didn’t help. The couple wrote coded messages to each other when they were apart and lived together for years. When Strange tragically and relentlessly passed away from leukemia, Brown was by her side, against the doctor’s orders. Brown later started a relationship with Pebble Rockefeller, and before Strange, Brown had dated men.
Although Brown wrote many, many books, good night moon remains his most famous work. Brown tried to post for adults but was never able to break through. The lasting success of the picture book comes despite a librarian’s attempt to crush him and he remains a bedtime favorite to this day (with the exception of this one tongue-in-cheek take from Rioter).
But his legacy is more than just one story. Its influence on the verbal design of children’s books can often be overlooked, but it is clearly massive. Although Brown died prematurely at age 42 from a blood clot following an appendectomy (according to biography; Wikipedia, citing a page on a now defunct Margaret Wise Brown website, reports that it was the removal of an ovarian cyst), she left behind trunks and drawers filled with writing, only some of which are discussed in Amy Gary’s book out of privacy. Maybe we’ll see more publications from Margaret Wise Brown again.
Find more interesting facts about women in literature with 10 facts about Madame D’Aulnoy who invented the world fairy tale.