With so many of you, we share the sad news that beloved writer and teacher, colleague and friend Norma Fox Mazer passed away over the weekend after a sudden and courageous battle with cancer. Norma was an award-winning writer for children and young adults; she was also a lovely, wise, brilliant person whose warmth was felt by strangers and friends alike. She was a calm, good-humored presence, easy to relax around, with the most wonderful smile. But she was also alert, quick, incisive, and direct, a trusted critic and advisor.
Students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts called her the Sultan of Structure for her unfailing expertise in that tricky arena, and those who worked with her marveled at her generous mentorship. Norma was ageless; her slight frame and whimsical braids, and her open, imaginative, curious and lively mind, gave her an air decades younger than her actual years. There was something magical about Norma; one felt happy to be around her.
Josie remembers her casual visits to the bookstore: "Having written more than thirty books, Norma could easily have had an ego, but she didn’t. She lived in Vermont, so every once in a while she’d pop by to the store to say hi and be among the books. I didn’t get to know her well, but I’ll always remember how bright and engaging she was with a kind-hearted smile. I tended to fumble around when she came in the store, rushing to find books for her to sign, and she would calmly take my elbow, look me in the eyes and remind me to breathe. Not many authors try to take care of the frantic bookseller; I liked that about her. I know students from Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults felt the same way. She was a nurturer and really loved it when student work was good. I have heard from my friends that she was precise and thoughtful in critiques. She inspired people, be they aspiring writers or readers who found themselves in her books. The children’s book world is diminished by her passing, but we can all find solace in her books."
Twenty-five years ago, in the days before the World Wide Web, I wrote a futuristic short story in which there was a tradition called TalkAbout, or TalkOut; I can’t recall which. When someone died, anyone could go to one of the ubiquitous public cameras and televise their memories of the deceased, no matter how minor their relationship or how small and personal the memory. It was a communal way of grieving that was both personal and widespread. This weekend, when news and loving thoughts about Norma snowballed across Facebook and in writers’ online discussion groups, I thought about how lucky we are to be able to share our memories with each other across the miles, with people who understand what has been lost, and what remains, of the people they love.
Many fine obituaries will detail Norma’s accomplishments in the field of children’s literature. She was an incredible writer, versatile and always moving forward in art. Here in ShelfTalker, we’d like to invite all of you to share your memories of Norma and her books and what they have meant to you, if you’d like.
For those readers who may not have met Norma but have loved her books, here’s a little snippet of a Scholastic interview with her:
There are two poems that put me in mind of Norma. The first sounds like something she might say to the rest of us. It was written in 1910 by the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Henry Scott-Holland.
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room.
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Finally, I’ve always loved this Emily Dickinson poem, which I read at my mom’s memorial service many years ago, and which has always seemed to me so perfect for a writer:
I dwell in Possibility – (466) — by Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –