Lois Lowry, author of such classic children's stories as Number the Stars and The Giver, discussed her works and inspiration with the students of the Literature and Arts A-18: "Fairy Tales, Children's Literature and the Culture of Childhood" yesterday.
Professor of German Maria M. Tatar, who teaches the course, had originally asked Lowry to introduce guest speaker Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. But Lowry stepped up to fill Sendak's shoes after Sendak injured a tendon and was unable to attend.
The audience sat enraptured throughout the class as Lowry praised Sendak, discussed her works and narrated snapshots of her own life.
Lowry said that although "I cannot possibly measure up to [Sendak's] station...it occurs to me that there is not that much difference between what I did and what Mr. Sendak did."
"What all of us do when we write is send someone on a scary journey," she said.
She said both she and Sendak work to create non-threatening endings to these journeys.
"Things aren't what they seem. You try to tell [things] in such a way that they come to a happy ending," Lowry said.
Lowry added that in both her serious and light works, she tries to create monsters and then present them in an unexpected way.
"Again and again, I have approached something--a beast or a bear--and I have sent it off in a different direction," she said.
Lowry also discussed the emotions children's writers invest in their characters.
"We who write tend to fall in love with our characters, but because we love them we want them to get through safely...triumphant," she said.
Lowry, who was born in 1937, said that books she read as a child still influence her work today.
She said reading Marjorie K. Rawlings' The Yearling with her mother as a child made her "aware of the power of books to affect the human soul."
She also said that such early tragedies as her older sister's death from cancer and the murder of her childhood best friend later served as inspirations for her early works.
Lowry began her first children's book, based on her memories of her sister's death, in 1976 upon the request of a Houghton Mifflin editor who had seen one of her short stories in a magazine.
Since then she has written 27 books, and continues to write at the rate of about one book per year.
From her trenchcoat-wearing, cigarette-smoking days as a first-year at Brown University to her elopement to California, she told a number of stories about her personal life.
For example, she said she "went to college by somewhat fraudulent means."
In high school, she said, she wrote a poem that received an 'A' in class. Her high school teacher entered the poem to a national contest, which she won.
But, Lowry explained, her teacher had actually added a line to the end of the poem, deepening its meaning.
Nonetheless, she entered Brown University hoping to study writing.
"I had become quite pretentious as a college freshman," she said. "I talked a lot about Freud and T.S. Eliot, neither of whom I had ever heard of before that year."
Audience members praised Lowry's lecture afterwards.
"It was beautifully done," said Stephen P. Shoemaker, one of the teaching fellows for the course.
"It was touching," added Michelle C. Lye '03, a student in the class.
After the lecture, Tatar, teaching fellows and a randomly selected group of five students enjoyed lunch with Lowry at the Faculty Club.
Over lunch, the group discussed various topics including Lowry's career, censorship issues, education and children's literature.