April 15, 2014

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Author Madeleine L’Engle Remembered as the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is Named a Literary Landmark

8240777782 18cb114d1f c Author Madeleine L’Engle Remembered as the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is Named a Literary Landmark

(l. to r.) Leonard S. Marcus, Rocco Staino, Robin Adelson, Lena Roy, Charlotte Jones Voiklis (Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter), Simon Boughton, and Hope Larsen

From her desk in the cathedral library, L’Engle greeted visitors, worked on her books, and participated in church activities.

On November 29, L’Engle’s birthday, the author’s spirit filled the cathedral once more during a ceremony in which the building was named a “Literary Landmark” in her honor.

More than 100 friends, family and fans gather at the main altar of the cathedral, the world’s largest Anglican church, while those supporting the dedication, and the new literary landmark plaque mounted on the cathedral wall, spoke about its significance.

“St. John the Divine is one of New York’s architectural wonders and spiritual crossroads,” said Leonard S. Marcus, author of the newly published Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices (FSG, 2012). “Now, everyone who visits there will know what a special role it played in the writing life of one of America’s greatest authors for children and adults.”

The church played a vital role in the author’s life, according to L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis. “The cathedral nurtured her by giving her a writing home,” she said.  At the same time, “the cathedral also expanded her horizons by bringing her into a larger conversation about spirituality.”

The very reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral, recalled that L’Engle once said, “if she could not write she would die.” He added, “We need that voice today—a voice of truth that had an abiding reverence for life’s mysteries.”

Simon Boughton, senior vice president and publishing director of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, recalled how, as a naive young editor at Simon & Schuster, he approached L’Engle about writing a book. That led to a relationship that included the author picking up a lunch check when Boughton’s credit card was declined, and Boughton using her choice seats at the opera.

Visitors felt L’Engle’s presence during the evensong, when a recording of her reading a passage from the Ephesians was played.

Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children’s Book Council, an event sponsor, noted that the  program “connects the real world with the book world.”

Beth Nawalinski, director of marketing and communications at United for Libraries, the division of the American Library Association that administers the Literary Landmark program, explained the process that recognizes locations throughout the country for their connection to significant literary events.

The Empire State Center for the Book, which inducted L’Engle into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame in 2011,  put forward the nomination for the literary landmark.

The cathedral joins 122 literary landmarks across the country, including the Algonquin Roundtable, the Plaza Hotel, and the Little Red Lighthouse in New York City.

On November 27, the Madeleine L’Engle website launched a Facebook page called Tesser Well where, it states, fans can “learn, share and connect.”


Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. Ann Sisko says:

    I had no idea! I wish I had been there.

    I attended her memorial service at the Cathedral. Looking around at the remarkable collection of people attending, I started to wonder about them. About who they were. Where they came from, and why they came.

    I actually did ask a few people — in line, waiting to exit, and in the ‘fellowship’ room where we met and mingled a bit. The first people I spoke with — a minister, his wife and children — gathered together before bed and read from her books. Individuals I met in the gathering room knew Madeleine as neighbors, as friends, as writers. I wished that I had all the time in the world to hear everyone’s story — to share in everyone’s memory of this woman who meant so much to so many.

    I first read A Wrinkle in Time in 1962-63 after a book talk by our town’s Children’s Librarian. Ten years later I was teaching 6th grade and one of my students was reading it and shared it with me. The one scene that had remained vividly in my memory was the kids bouncing the balls in unison on Camazotz, but I really didn’t remember the rest too clearly. I reread the book so I could discuss it with her; I was completely mesmerized and found myself on a mission to read all of her books. One was A Severed Wasp — where I was introduced to Madeleine’s Cathedral. Her settings are like her characters — they are very real for me; they live in my soul; they inform my life.

    Thank you for this article, these videos. I couldn’t be there, but these allow me to share a little in the event.

  2. Manhattan says:

    L’Engle’s first name is misspelled in the photo caption.