I am horrendously late with this - I can only say that time got away from me today, and say a prayer to the squirrel gods to forgive me. --Scott
I have long wanted to be a published author. My family has a few of us - my brother Whit Honea has written a successful parenting book, and my grandmother Joyce Peterson was a prolific playwright, writing for the children at her church that she loved. But there are no other Coatsworth authors that I know of.
But there once was. There are not many Coatsworths in the world, truth be told. It's a fairly rare name, one that passed down to me from origins in Danish royalty in the 1400s and then the English countryside in the 1600s. I've only recently learned more about its storied history.
My branch of the family ended up in South Dakota. Another branch, closely related to my own, ended up in Ontario, and a few months ago, I met a woman from that branch who happens to live just two blocks from me, and is my first cousin, six times removed.
Along one of the other branches was an author named Elizabeth Coatsworth. Her line ended up in New England--she was born in New York in 1893. She was a fiercely intelligent woman, graduating from Vassar College and later from Columbia, and a world traveler, visiting what was then called the Orient, riding horseback through the Philippines, exploring Indonesia and China, and sleeping in a Buddhist monastery.
She started out writing poetry for adults, but then moved into children's literature on the advice of a friend and publisher. She won the Newbury Medal for "The Cat Who Went to Heaven" in 1930.
The year I was born, in 1968, she was a runner-up for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's writers. And in 1986, the year I graduated from high school, intent on pursuing my writing career, she passed away at her home in Maine.
Our paths never crossed. But I knew about her.
I have recently taken more of an interest in her as my own writing career has started to take off. I discovered that she wrote or participated in at least 42 books. One of her last books, originally issued as "Pure Magic" in 1975, was later reissued as a Scholastic Book Services title as "The Werefox." It caught my eye because of the title - fascinating to me, because I now run a site that includes authors of many "were" stories. I ordered a copy of it through Amazon - $15 for what was originally probably a $2 book - and it was worth every penny.
I find her writing style to be magical, lyrical, enchanting:
"Johnny Dunlap woke and lay on his back in his narrow bed listening. There it was, the faint shrill sweet bark which had awakened him. Even in the deepest sleep, that sound could rouse him and call him back out of his dreams to the living world--if it was the living world to which he returned. Sometimes it seemed stranger than any of his dreams--one morning he had found a wild yellow violet in his hand, still fresh as if it had just been picked along a woods path."
I close my eyes and try to picture her at home, sitting in a fireplace-warmed room in Maine, looking out the window at the fresh fallen snow. Her mind is racing with the possibilities of the story, even at the respectable age of 82, still churning as the mind of a writer is wont to.
And I feel a connection with her. As if, in that moment, with that story, she was casting a line into the future. A line to me.
A few of her books are still in print, but most are scattered to the shelves of used bookstores and the dustbins of history. But perhaps her love of writing lives on a little, in me.
So I grab hold of the line she has thrown me, and write with all my heart..
And I imagine her sitting back in her chair with a smile.