Armed mostly with just a typewriter and Wite-Out, Virginia Hamilton created masterfully written and powerful stories. Her words could easily transport you into the story’s action. She was known to describe her work as “liberation literature,” and often intertwined ideas, like tradition and heritage, into her work to help define the lives of African Americans.
A writer for children and young adults, Virginia made strides within the literary world, becoming the first African American to win the Newbery Medal in 1974 among many other triumphs. She was born in 1934 and grew up in Ohio. After attending The Ohio State University and majoring in literature and creative writing, she moved to New York City in 1958 with the dream of becoming a published writer. She would write 41 books, spanning from mysteries and science fiction to realistic novels and biographies, before her death in 2002 from breast cancer. In honor of Black History Month, we are taking a look at some of Virginia’s most meaningful endeavors and triumphs.
Nine years after moving to the big city, Virginia published her first book, Zeely, which won the Nancy Bloch Award and was named an ALA Notable Book. A year later, she published The House of Dies Drear, winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. In 1971, her book The Planet of Junior Brown was named Newbery Honor Book and won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.
Three years later, Virginia published perhaps her most triumphant novel, M.C. Higgins, the Great. It won the Newbery Medal, making Virginia the first African American author ever to receive this honor. The book also won the National Book Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, marking the first time a book had won these three awards and has rarely been repeated since. Other awards included the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, Peace Prize of Germany, New York Times Outstanding Children’s Book of the Year, and Hans Christian Andersen Honor Book, among others.
A decade and several accomplishments later, The Virginia Hamilton Lecture in Children’s Literature was established at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The lecture grew into the Virginia Hamilton Conference and is the longest running event in the US to focus exclusively on multicultural literature for children and young adults.
Virginia continued to write books for young adults. In the Beginning, published in 1988, was named the ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Parents Magazine’s Best Book of the Year, Time magazine’s One of the Twelve Best Books for Young Readers. In 1989 she was named a distinguished writing professor at the Graduate School of Education at The Ohio State University, and in 1992, she won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. This was the highest international recognition bestowed on an author of children’s literature.
As an extremely accomplished African American woman, Virginia has inspired many young people to pursue their dreams and push for excellence. But what she may be remembered most for, are her magical words that guided young African American readers through adolescence to greatness.
Open Road Integrated Media’s collection of Virginia Hamilton eBooks are now available on OverDrive Content Reserve.
*Title availability may vary due to geographic location.
Brianne Carlon is a marketing associate at OverDrive.