Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Beginnings

July 15, 2009

"It's no wonder that I grew up not merely a storyteller, but a storyteller bewitched by notions of abandoned children" explained Wicked author Gregory Maguire matter-of-factly at the first of ALA Annual's Auditorium Speaker series for 2009. Telling how he was placed in an orphanage for a time after his mother Helen Maguire died giving birth to him, Maguire described his subsequent family life with his journalist father, poet stepmother, and six siblings. "How could I not be a writer, given all those siblings I needed a distraction from, and my parents wouldn’t buy me a private playhouse or a horse or a personal valet? What else was there to do but write and take vengeance on them all? I made that my life’s mission." In captivating fashion, Maguire recounted a seminal afternoon of roleplaying in his family's backyard that started him on his career path: "playing with stolen property." Inspired by viewing a Wizard of Oz telecast several evenings earlier, he assigned roles to brothers, sisters, and friends, expanding the cast to include Captain Hook, Peter Pan, and Tinker Bell. When one child protests, "But that's not the right story," Maguire recalls responding that this is "our story" and that "we need to have more than one bad guy so we can make comparisons to see who’s worse." But on that afternoon, Maguire doesn't find out; the game is interrupted by his stepmother, who rushes outside to rescue his 13-month-old baby brother from under the back porch, where he is stuck and turning blue after the other children placed him there to portray the Wicked Witch of the East. Baby Joe is saved, but "the story is still open. It's very seductive." "You can see how the game of playing with the cultural material of the Wizard of Oz might, 30-some years later, have ended up in a novel called Wicked and its sequels [Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and Mirror, Mirror," Maguire said. Because such iconic tales are "the common language that brings us all together, things that we shared when we were children despite the fact that none of us had known each other, the result is that he "can be assured, not that everybody will like what I do, but that every single person in Gregory Maguire and Geraldine Fegan Celebrating the "coming-together of people who care about work with children," Maguire offered a preview of his forthcoming book Making Mischief, an appreciation of Maurice Sendak ("the artist as scavenger, like kids in a backyard"). Maguire also expressed appreciation to librarians for keeping children's stories alive, revealing that he dedicated his forthcoming novel Matchless to the profession in general and librarian Geraldine Fegan in particular (she won a fundraising competition Maguire and Lois Lowry held for Massachusetts libraries): “To Geraldine Fegan and to the thousands of school and public librarians who work to keep the library lamps burning during dark times.”