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Susan Cooper
Cooper in 2013
Cooper in 2013
Born 23 May 1935 (1935-05-23) (age 85)
Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Occupation Writer
Language English
Alma mater Somerville College, Oxford
Period 1964–present
Genre Children's fantasy novels
Notable works The Dark Is Rising series
Notable awards Newbery Medal
1976
Margaret A. Edwards Award
2012
Spouse
  • Nicholas Grant
    (m. 1963; div. 1983)
  • Hume Cronyn
    (m. 1996; died 2003)

Susan Mary Cooper (born 23 May 1935) is an English author of children's books. She is best known for The Dark Is Rising, a contemporary fantasy series set in England and Wales, which incorporates British mythology, such as the Arthurian legends, and Welsh folk heroes. For that work, in 2012 she won the lifetime Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association, recognizing her contribution to writing for teens. In the 1970s two of the five novels were named the year's best English-language book with an "authentic Welsh background" by the Welsh Books Council.

Biography

Cooper was born in 1935 in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, to Ethel May (née Field) and her husband John Richard Cooper. Her father had worked in the reading room of the Natural History Museum until going off to fight in the Second World War, from which he returned with a wounded leg. He then pursued a career in the offices of the Great Western Railway. Her mother was a teacher of ten-year-olds and eventually became deputy head of a large school. Her younger brother Roderick also grew up to become a writer.

Cooper lived in Buckinghamshire until she was 21, when her parents moved to her grandmother's village of Aberdyfi in Wales. She attended Slough High School and then earned a degree in English at Somerville College at the University of Oxford, where she was the first woman to edit the undergraduate newspaper Cherwell.

After graduating, she worked as a reporter for The Sunday Times (London) under Ian Fleming and wrote in her spare time. During that period she began work on the series The Dark Is Rising and finished her debut novel, the science fiction Mandrake, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1964.

Cooper emigrated to the United States in 1963 to marry Nicholas J. Grant, a Professor of Metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a widower with three teenage children. She had two children with him, Jonathan Roderick Howard Grant (b. 1965) and Katharine Mary Grant (b. 1966; later Katharine Glennon). She then became a full-time writer, focusing on The Dark Is Rising and on Dawn of Fear (1970), a novel based on her experiences of the Second World War. Eventually she wrote fiction for both children and adults, a series of picture books, film screenplays, and works for the stage.

Around the time of writing Seaward (1983), both of her parents died, and her marriage to Grant was dissolved.

In July 1996, she married the Canadian-American actor and her sometime co-author Hume Cronyn, the widower of Jessica Tandy. (Cronyn and Tandy had starred in the Broadway production of Foxfire, written by Cooper and Cronyn and staged in 1982.) Cooper and Cronyn remained married until his death in June 2003.

Hollywood adapted The Dark Is Rising (1973) as a film in 2007, The Seeker. It disappointed Cooper, who requested that some changes from her narrative be reverted, to no avail.

Cooper was on the Board of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA), a US nonprofit organization that advocates for literacy, literature, and libraries (2006–2012).

Her latest work in 2013 was Ghost Hawk, featuring the spirit of a Wampanoag, people decimated by European disease, who witnesses the transformation of Massachusetts by the Plymouth Colony.

In April 2017, Cooper gave the fifth annual Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College, Oxford, speaking on the role of fantasy literature in contemporary society.

She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as of October 2012.

Awards

For her lifetime contribution as a children's writer, Cooper was U.S. nominee in 2002 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition available to creators of children's books.

The American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award recognises one writer and a particular body of work for "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature". Cooper won the award in 2012 citing the five Dark Is Rising novels, published 1965 to 1977. The citation observed, "In one of the most influential epic high fantasies in literature, Cooper evokes Celtic and Arthurian mythology and masterly world-building in a high-stakes battle between good and evil, embodied in the coming of age journey of Will Stanton."

She has also been recognised for single books:

  • 1974, Newbery Honor (runner-up for the Medal), The Dark Is Rising (1973 novel)
  • 1976, Newbery Medal, The Grey King
  • 1976, Tir na n-Og Award, The Grey King
  • 1978, Tir na n-Og Award, Silver on the Tree
  • 1989, B'nai B'rith Janusz Korczak Literary Prize, Seaward

Works

Biography

  • J. B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author (London: Heinemann, 1970) – biography of the English writer and socialist John Boynton Priestley
  • The Magic Maker: A Portrait of John Langstaff and His Christmas Revels (Candlewick Press, 2011) – juvenile biography of John Langstaff, founder of the Revels

Other nonfiction

  • Behind the Golden Curtain: A View of the USA (Hodder & Stoughton and Scribner's, 1965)
  • Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

Drama

  • Foxfire, Cooper and Hume Cronyn (Samuel French Inc, 1982), stage playbook – produced on Broadway as Foxfire (1982) – based on the Foxfire books

Cooper wrote four screenplays produced for television, one supernatural tale for children and three more adaptations of books about Appalachia (as Foxfire).

  • Dark Encounter (Shadows, Series 2; Thames Television, 1976)
  • The Dollmaker (ABC, 1984)
  • To Dance with the White Dog (Hallmark, 1993)
  • Jewel (CBS, 2001)

Short fiction

  • "Muffin", Amy Ehrlich, ed., When I Was Your Age: Original Stories about Growing Up (Volume 1) (Candlewick) – story set in World War II England (as Dawn of Fear)
  • "Ghost Story", Don't Read This! (US, Front Street), Fingers on the Back of the Neck (UK, Puffin) – collection supporting IBBY
  • Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick) – Cooper wrote one piece of this mixed-genre NCBLA collaboration
  • The Exquisite Corpse Adventure (Candlewick) – Cooper wrote one episode of this sequential story collaboration of children's authors and illustrators by NCBLA for the LC website
  • "The Caretakers", Haunted (Anderson Press collection, UK only)
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