"I am a former child,'' she said, ''and I haven't forgotten a thing.''
January 6, 2010 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Ursula Nordstrom—the "Maxwell Perkins of the Tot Department"—was, from 1940 to 1973, head of the Department of Books for Boys and Girls at the New York publisher Harper & Row, and until 1979 had her own imprint there, Ursula Nordstrom Books. A legendary editor known to her authors as UN, she published the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Margaret Wise Brown, Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak (whom she is credited with discovering) and, to not a little controversy, E. B. White (previously). One of "the last generation of devoted letter writers," she wrote nearly 100,000 during her five decade career at Harper, of which 300 of the most amusing, acerbic, and illuminating are collected in Dear Genius by Leonard S. Marcus, the first hundred pages of which can be read at the Harper website.

My favorite UN letter: to Maurice Sendak, when he was in a moment of despair, she wrote, "You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn't Sendak, either."
posted by ocherdraco (8 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
So that's the Ursula Where the Sidewalk Ends was dedicated to!!!! I always wondered!
posted by zizzle at 12:46 PM on January 6, 2010

I was skimming and came across this gem (addressed to someone who had sent her bath perfumes):

I feel that this prescription will mean a great deal to me in the days ahead and that now anything can happen. I'll certainly have to meet a new group of people. No one I know at present is elegant enough to go with this addition to my life, except you, of course, and perhaps one or two librarians.

She seems delightful - I look forward to reading through those letters!
posted by shaun uh at 12:46 PM on January 6, 2010

These are just wonderful. My favorite so far is to Crockett Johnson, the illustrator of the AgentRocket family favorite The Carrot Seed, asking him to draw into each illustration of the boy "that sense of sublime assurance" that the seed will grow.
posted by AgentRocket at 1:20 PM on January 6, 2010

Fascinating book; it's a treat to read about people so enamored with words and stories.

Skimming through the 100 pages of her letters that they have online, I read this:
"... (yes I have a TV set and the other children's book editors think I'm horrible to have one but I just toss my lovely head and act defiant) ..."
and somehow thought of MeFi.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2010

Fascinating book; it's a treat to read about people so enamored with words and stories. (Hardcore Poser)

Yes! And I particularly love books of letters by those kinds of people.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2010

I love this book. Not only is it plain fun to read, but it gives you a great insight into exactly what it is that a good editor does. I also have very fond memories of Nordstrom's one book of her own, The Secret Language, which I read over and over when I was a kid.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:21 PM on January 6, 2010

Dear Genius is indeed a great book. I also read and loved EB White's letters ages ago. I wonder who else of Nordstrom's correspondents had their letters published.
posted by yarrow at 8:26 PM on January 6, 2010

Lovely lovely. I'm ordering a copy of the book right now - I want to spend more time with Ursula Nordstrom.
posted by chihiro at 6:58 AM on January 7, 2010

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