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