Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Madeleine L'Engle and Hilary Clinton

So many things to blog about . . . should I write about the Clinton's moving two towns north to the ritzier side of my own new hometown Katonah? Nah, I don't think it's going to have much impact on my lit.life, although rumor has it that Hilary once claimed A Wrinkle in Time as her favorite book.

Yet, the great thing about the writing process is that writing down the name Clinton in relation to Madeleine L'Engle has me remembering the privilege of visiting the White House in my grandmother's honor, for the prestigious National Humanities Medal. This is definitely apropos for a blog about a lit.life!

The award "honors individuals and organizations whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand America's access to important humanities resources."

It was the fall of 2004. I was pregnant with my daughter, and my grandmother was still with us, but had just been hospitalized for a cerebral hemorrhage. My sister Charlotte was to accept the award on behalf of our grandmother, although if Bill and Hilary had still been in the White House, we joked that she would have made a speedy recovery in an attempt to receive the award herself!

My brother Edward and I were thrilled to tag along, relishing the chance to see the White House. None of us had ever been there!

We had to go through some very heavy security. To be expected. Once we were finally "in", Each grouping of guests was given an "escort", a naval officer "off" duty who was charming, helpful, and whose job it was to be our host for the afternoon. I wish I could remember his name, because at that time I was writing a short story about an ex-navy airline pilot, and much of my research is thanks to him.

The rest of my memories are a blur: the ceremony, my pride in watching Charlotte accept the award with grace, deference and aplomb, shaking George W. and Laura's hands, the tour, the award ceremony and the amazingly luscious spread that the White House catered afterward (five and a half years later and I still remember the shrimp!)

It is not uncommon for artists to get awards and recognition either at the end of their lives or after. Some artists never get it. Artists strive for recognition, but more importantly, if they are to have longevity like my grandmother, they must make friends with the uncertainty of a creative career, and with failure. My grandmother always said to me: "If you aren't free to fail, then you aren't really free." I am so glad that my Gran was recognized by the government for her achievements.

However, I wish it could have been that Madeleine and Hilary had shaken hands, or shared a moment during the Clinton's reign at the White House: I can't help thinking that it would have been meaningful for both of them!


  1. Madeleine received a Doctor of Letters in 2000 at Haverford College, which is where my brother went to college. I went to the neighboring Bryn Mawr College. I was a sophomore and my brother a junior. We both stayed beyond the time required to take exams in order to see Madeleine speak. I don't remember what she said that day but she was superior to the other speakers. Alas, she was in a wheelchair than and I didn't get to introduce myself.


  2. I love that "if you're not free to fail, then you're not free." Wise.

  3. Cathy - I'm so glad that you got a chance to hear her speak! She was freakin' awesome . . . and Hope - that "if you're not free to fail" quote has kept me from getting frostbit in the cold and dark!

  4. If they met it would have been meaningful for them and meaningful for so many girls they've inspired, girls who are growing up in a different culture because of what those women accomplished. And now you're inspiring girls in Katonah, too. (By the way, did Borders agree to the reading?)

  5. Hey lena, I love your blog! You are inspirational! Your Grandmother told me, one day during the Clinton Administration, that she'd heard that Hillary liked her work. I said "Send something!" She did. never got a thank you note!

  6. Kristi! Thanks for holding me accountable - I went into Borders today and got a resounding YES!

    And Dana - yes, thanks for reminding me that Gran never got a response, although I have to say, I blame Hilary's posse for letting such an important letter fall through the cracks!

  7. Hey Lena,
    I just remembered that years ago when Hillary came to Chicago after 'taking the village', I went down to the presentation and afterwards I snuck a copy of the WRINKLE recording to her - We were not supposed to have anything to hand her BUT I held on to it and just before I shook her hand was able to show it to her and hand it to her assistant. Eventually I did get a note and when I go through my stuff, I will copy it for you. She WAS a fan of Wrinkle and your Gran for sure. How could she NOT be?!?!


  8. Hillary was my favourite in the previous elections. In the bestessays.com.au review there is great political debate which is inspirational as well.


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