A Q&A with Charlotte Jones Voiklis, editor of ‘The Moment of Tenderness’

Voiklis, the granddaughter of Madeleine L’Engle, answers questions about a collection of 18 previously unpublished stories by the famed author.

Courtesy of Amy Drucker and Hachette Book Group
Charlotte Jones Voiklis, the editor of “The Moment of Tenderness,” appears with the cover of book, which is a collection of previously unpublished stories by her grandmother Madeleine L'Engle.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis is the granddaughter and literary executor of Madeleine L’Engle, best known for the 1963 classic young adult novel, “A Wrinkle in Time.” L’Engle’s writing encompassed memoir and mystery, poetry and plays, fantasy and faith. As Voiklis says, she was a woman who believed “in fairy tales and myth and truth.”

Voiklis has collected 18 previously unpublished stories into a single volume, “The Moment of Tenderness,” which includes everything from early fiction written for college classes (one was marked with an A-) to semi-autobiographical essays. 

Q: What should people know about this collection?

What I really love about these stories is that they’re early work, and you can see her coming toward this vigorous, hard-won, optimistic joy in life, even when things are desperately bleak.

Q: Where are the stories from?

The stories came from her unpublished manuscripts and papers. I had read some of them when I was very young, and then after she died and we had to consolidate her papers and put them in storage I came across them again. [Deciding to publish them] was a really long process. I am not in a hurry to publish from the archive unless it’s something that I think is really good.

Q: Did you two talk much about your role as executor?

Not explicitly, not like “When I’m gone these are the decisions you shall make,” but we worked closely together from the time I graduated high school in 1986 to when she died in 2007. I knew she trusted me to make decisions and we had good conversations, so I knew what she cared about and she knew what I cared about. ... For instance, it was important to her that school groups be allowed to do their own theatrical adaptations of “A Wrinkle In Time” [a rare accommodation]. She had a theater background; she believed in the pedagogy of the theater.

Q: Are there unpublished books in her archive? Will we ever know more about Vicky Austin or Meg Murry?

There are no other Vicky stories. There is a half-draft of a Meg story. And there are – I’m actually reading them right now – like seven drafts of an unpublished novel called “The Lost Innocent” … the book that was famously rejected on her 40th birthday. ... I read the rejected version, and I was like “Yeah, that’s pretty bad. I get it … that’s going to stay in the archives.” I hope maybe a scholar looks at it some day. ... But the earlier version feels like a big Great American Novel attempt. ... I think she’s trying to talk about what it means to be an artist, what it means to fail as an artist or think you failed, what it means to be the child of an artist, or be an artist’s parent. I think it’s asking some big and interesting questions, but in order to make anything of it, it would have to be heavily edited, which isn’t something I think I want done.

Q: Are there times you especially miss her?

I would love her wisdom right now, but I’m also glad that she isn’t here for this [the coronavirus pandemic]. And I don’t just mean right now but also for the 2016 election and beyond. Being born just after World War I, her parents transmitted to her a horror and fear of war and social upheaval. I remember her being – scared is maybe not the right word – but she was very in tune with anxiety, global anxiety levels. But she always used that as an opportunity to say “Now we have to keep the clocks wound, now we have to love each other, now we have to pay attention. So her sensitivity to that fueled her art.

Read an essay and review of "The Moment of Tenderness" here. 

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