To know of Ursula Nordstrom is to long for an editor worth writing. Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940-1973, is responsible for the careers and celebrity of many writers and artists during her tenure. From Maurice Sendak, who she “discovered” in an FAO Schwartz window, to E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Shell Silverstein, and more, there are her collected letters in Dear Genius. Thanks to Leonard S. Marcus, the title is apt, as review of a few of the telegrams, dictations, and hasty directions show. Nordstrom’s words and sentiments are the stuff of balm and gust. From a letter to E.B. White, October 23rd, 1952:
Thanks for your letter…I am absolutely sure that most children will love the book, even more than Stuart Little. The children I know love it, including one tough nine-year-old boy who states it is his favorite book. Please don’t worry at all about the children.
Rumors have reached me that Miss Anne Carroll Moore has certain reservations about Charlotte’s Web. As her reservations about Stuart Little preceded a wonderful success for that book I am taking all this as good news for Charlotte’s Web. (I would not mention this but someone may quote Miss Moore to you.) Well, Eudora Welty said the book was perfect for anyone over eight or under eighty, and that leaves Miss Moore out as she is a girl of eighty-two.
I will stop writing you so many letters soon.
Nordstrom was not only quelling the criticism of Miss Carroll Moore, then, a powerful voice from the American Librarians Association, but also dropping a bit of a plum from Welty’s positive review in the New York Times of Charlotte’s Web from four days earlier. E.B. White, we know living somewhat isolated at this time, may or may not have seen Welty’s review so quickly.
I’ve read the entirety of Dear Genius, and while Nordstrom was obviously being paid to cajole and communicate, her artful compliments leave me shame-faced. I suspect I write quadruply longer emails and find not half so much opportunity to hone my skills at complimenting others.
Expanded review of the written letter as book format: http://lorawrote.com/wrt-ltrs/