Lois Lowry (born Lois Ann Hammersberg; March 20, 1937) is an American writer credited with more than thirty children's books. She has won two Newbery Medals, for Number the Stars in 1990 and The Giver in 1994. For her contribution as a children's writer, she was a finalist in 2000 and U.S. nominee again in 2004, as well as a finalist in 2016 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest recognition available to creators of children's books. Her book Gooney Bird Greene won the 2002 Rhode Island Children's Book Award. In 2007 she received the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association for her contribution in writing for teens. In 2011 she gave the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture; her lecture was titled "UNLEAVING: The Staying Power of Gold". She was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Brown University in 2014.
As an author, Lowry is known for writing about difficult subject matters within her works for children. She has explored such complex issues as racism, terminal illness, murder, and the Holocaust among other challenging topics. She has also explored very controversial issues of questioning authority such as in The Giver quartet. Her writing on such matters has brought her both praise and criticism. In particular, her work The Giver, the first novel in The Giver quartet, has been met with a diversity of reactions from schools in America, some of which have adopted it as a part of the mandatory curriculum, while others have prohibited the book's inclusion in classroom studies. A film adaptation of The Giver was released in 2014.
Life and career
Lowry was born on March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to parents Katherine Gordon Landis and Robert E. Hammersberg. Her father was of Norwegian descent and her mother had German, English, and Scots-Irish ancestry. Initially, Lowry's parents named her "Cena" for her Norwegian grandmother but upon hearing this, her grandmother telegraphed and instructed Lowry's parents that the child should have an American name. Her parents chose the names Lois and Ann, which were the names of her father's sisters.
Lowry was born the middle of three children. She had an older sister, Helen, and a younger brother Jon. Helen, three years older than her, died in 1962 at the age of 28 of cancer. This experience influenced Lowry's first book A Summer to Die which is about a young girl who tragically loses her older sister (which is also a subplot of Number the Stars). Lowry's brother Jon is six years younger and grew up to be a doctor. They continue to enjoy a close relationship.
Lowry's father was a career military officer – an Army dentist – whose work moved the family all over the United States and to many parts of the world. Lowry and her family moved from Hawaii to Brooklyn, New York, in 1939 when Lowry was two years old. She attended kindergarten at the Berkeley Institute and relocated in 1942 to her mother's hometown, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when Lowry's father was deployed to the Pacific during World War II. Lowry's father served on a hospital ship called the USS Hope and on the island of Tinian during the war.
Following World War II, Lowry and her family moved to the Washington Heights military housing complex in Tokyo, Japan, where her father was stationed from 1948–1950. Lowry went through junior high school at the Tokyo American School at Meguro, a special school for the children of military families and expats, and then returned to the United States to attend high school. Lowry and her family briefly lived in Carlisle again in 1950 before moving to Fort Jay at Governors Island, New York, where Lowry attended Curtis High School on Staten Island. In 1952, she entered Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she finished high school. Lowry entered Pembroke College in Brown University in 1954. She attended for two years until her marriage, at age 19, to Donald Grey Lowry, a U.S. Navy officer, in 1956. Together, they had four children: daughters Alix and Kristin, and sons Grey and Benjamin.
The Lowrys moved quite frequently in their early years of marriage due to Donald's military career. They lived in California, Connecticut (where Alix was born), Florida (where Grey was born), South Carolina, and finally Cambridge, Massachusetts (where Kristin and Benjamin were born). The family settled in Cambridge after Donald left military service to attend Harvard Law School. After Donald Lowry finished law school, the family moved to Portland, Maine.
As her children grew up Lowry found time to complete her degree in English literature from the University of Southern Maine in Portland in 1972. After earning her B.A., she pursued graduate studies at her alma mater. It was during this coursework that she was introduced to photography, which became a lifelong passion as well as a profession. Her specialty was child photography, but she also took pictures to accompany the articles she submitted as a freelance journalist. Her freelance work for Redbook magazine generated her first book opportunity. Her story for the magazine was meant for adults but written from a child's perspective. A Houghton Mifflin editor recognized her talent and suggested that she write a children's book. Lowry agreed and wrote A Summer to Die which Houghton Mifflin published in 1977 when she was 40 years old. She and Donald Lowry divorced that same year; as Lowry nurtured her budding career, they found they were no longer compatible. Lowry said about those transitional years of her life, "My children grew up in Maine. So did I. I returned to college at the University of Southern Maine, got my degree, went to graduate school, and finally began to write professionally, the thing I had dreamed of doing since those childhood years when I had endlessly scribbled stories and poems in notebooks."
Writing about both funny things and serious issues has sustained Lois Lowry through her own hard times. Her son Grey was killed in the crash of his fighter plane in 1995. Lowry has acknowledged that this was the most difficult day of her life, but through her steady work as an author, she has persevered. Lowry said, "His death in the cockpit of a warplane tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth." Later, Benjamin (Lowry's son) and his wife had a baby named Grey Lowry to remember "Zane" Grey for his service to the Air Force, along with another child named Rhys who is younger.
Today, Lois Lowry remains active by not only continuing to write and speaking at appearances, but also enjoying time at her homes in Massachusetts and Maine. She takes pleasure in reading, knitting, gardening, and entertaining her four grandchildren. Since 2015 her partner, whom she calls her "spouse equivalent," has been Dr. Howard Corwin. ( Harvard 1954; Harvard Medical School 1958).
Lowry wrote of her hope for the future recently on her blog, "I am a grandmother now. For my own grandchildren – and for all those of their generation – I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another."
Lowry says that she is not particularly religious but that she respects all religions and deplores the conflicts they cause. She likes the comment of the Dalai Lama: "My religion is kindness."
The ALA Margaret Edwards Award recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Lowry won the annual award in 2007 citing The Giver alone (published 1993). The citation observed that "The Giver was one of the most frequently challenged books from 1990–2000" — that is, the object of "a formal, written attempt to remove a book from a library or classroom." According to the panel chair, "The book has held a unique position in teen literature. Lowry's exceptional use of metaphors and subtle complexity make it a book that will be discussed, debated and challenged for years to come...a perfect teen read."
Lowry won the Newbery Medal in 1990 for her novel Number the Stars, and again in 1994 for The Giver.
Also, in 1990, she received the National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature for Number the Stars.
In 1991, she was awarded the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award for Number the Stars.
In 1994, Lowry was awarded the Regina Medal.
In 2002, her book Gooney Bird Greene won the Rhode Island Children's Book Award.
In 2011 she gave the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture; her lecture was titled "UNLEAVING: The Staying Power of Gold ".
In 2014, Lowry was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Brown University.
- Lowry's book "The Willoughbys" (2008) can be spotted as one of Murph's books in the tesseract-scene in the 2014 film Interstellar by Christopher Nolan.