Biography of Lois Lowry (1937-)
Lois Lowry was born on March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Katharine, a teacher, and Robert Hammersberg, an army dentist who was stationed near Pearl Harbor. Lois, her siblings, and her mother moved away to Pennsylvania before the Pearl Harbor bombings in 1941. By her own account, her childhood was safe, happy, and predictable. Her father was deployed for several years, so Lowry grew up largely without his presence.
Lowry learned to read at an early age, and she loved to create stories in her mind as a child. She graduated from high school at sixteen and matriculated at Pembroke College, a women’s college that was connected to and was later absorbed into Brown University, where she studied writing with the hope of becoming a novelist. However, as with many of her female peers in the 1950s, Lowry married before completing college and turned her attention toward being a homemaker.
Having married the naval officer Donald Grey Lowry in 1956, she spent several years raising four children named Alix, Grey, Kristin, and Benjamin. Donald graduated from Harvard with a law degree, but she continued to raise her children until they began to reach adulthood. Eventually she returned to school to complete her degree at the University of Southern Maine in 1972. She continued with graduate school at the university while publishing short stories and writing textbooks.
After divorcing Donald in 1977, she published A Summer to Die, her first novel. A Summer to Die depicts Meg Chalmers, who has a complicated relationship with her older sister Molly. Molly's battle with a terminal disease forces Meg to reevaluate her own life and to come to understand her love for her sister. The idea for the novel came in part from Lowry's own life; her older sister Helen had lost her fight with cancer when Lowry was twenty-five.
The next few years saw Lowry publish several novels, including a series of books about Anastasia Krupnik, a protagonist who often finds herself in humorous situations as she grows from a child into a teenager. In addition to these more comic novels, Lowry wrote a number of more serious novels, such as her 1987 work Rabble Starkey, which deals with the protagonist Parable Ann, also known as Rabble. Rabble lives in the rural Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, and her storyline deals with love and family.
Lowry has received the Newbery Medal for children's literature twice in her career. The first award was in 1990 for Number the Stars. The novel features Annemarie Johansen, a Danish gentile who, with her family, risks her life to protect and evacuate Jews from Denmark into Sweden under the shadow of Nazi Germany and the Second World War.
Lowry again received the Newbery Medal in 1993 for The Giver, which depicts Jonas, a boy who is forced to confront the dystopian nature of his society after he is named the new Receiver of Memory. The Receiver of Memory is a respected but lonely and difficult position which, Jonas learns, involves holding all of society's memories. Eventually, Jonas decides he must escape the community in order to return his memories to society, and the novel's ambiguous ending leaves open the question of Jonas's fate.
Lois Lowry published several novels during the 2000s, including Gathering Blue and Messenger, both of which are set in the same world as The Giver and indicate that Jonas did survive. Her career as a novelist focusing on young adult literature has powerfully engaged such sensitive topics as death, cancer, and the Holocaust. She remains an active writer.