One whose work flirts with Buddhism and beings not quite human.
⁓The Voice before the Void
Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth (May 31, 1893 – August 31, 1986) was an American writer of fiction and poetry for children and adults. She won the 1931 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association recognizing The Cat Who Went to Heaven as the previous year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In 1968 she was a highly commended runner-up for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Award for children’s writers.
Elizabeth Coatsworth was born May 31, 1893, to Ida Reid and William T. Coatsworth, a prosperous grain merchant in Buffalo, New York. Coatsworth attended Buffalo Seminary, a private girl’s school, and spent summers with her family on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. She began traveling as a child, vising the Alps and Egypt at age five. Coatsworth graduated from Vassar College in 1915 as Salutatorian. In 1916 she received a Master of Arts from Columbia University. She then traveled to the Orient, riding horseback through the Philippines, exploring Indonesia and China, and sleeping in a Buddhist monastery. These travels would later influence her writing.
In 1929, she married writer Henry Beston, with whom she had two daughters, Margaret and Catherine. They lived at Hingham, Massachusetts, and Chimney Farm, Maine.
Elizabeth Coatsworth died at her home in Nobleboro, Maine, August 31, 1986. Her papers are held in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota and Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, with a small archive from late in her career in the de Grummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Coatsworth began her career publishing her poetry in magazines. Her first book was a poetry collection for adults, Fox Footprints, in 1912. A conversation with her friend, Louise Seaman, who had just founded the first children’s book publishing department in the United States at Macmillan, led Coatsworth to write her first children’s book, The Cat and the Captain. In 1930, The Cat Who Went to Heaven appeared. The story of an artist who is painting a picture of Buddha for a group of monks, it won the Newbery Medal.
Twentieth-Century Children’s Writers says “Coatsworth reached her apogee in her nature writing, notably ‘The Incredible Tales.'” These four books were published for adults in the 1950s. They tell the story of the Pedrys, a family living in the forests of northern Maine who may not be entirely human.
Coatsworth had a long career, publishing over 90 books from 1910 to her autobiography and final book in 1976.