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Popular Topics in The Arts
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In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Nancy Garden (1938-2014)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/04/14
Last updated on: 07/04/14
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YouTube photo.

Nancy Garden, pioneering author of young adult novels, died of a heart attack in her Carlisle, Massachusetts home on June 23, 2014. She is survived by her longtime partner and wife since 2004, Sandra Scott.

As Margalit Fox reports in the New York Times, although Garden wrote some three dozen books for young people, she remained best known for her 1982 novel, Annie on My Mind, which centers on two high school girls who fall in love and embark on a fulfilling sexual relationship.

The novel, which the trade publication Booklist, in a 1999 survey of gay-themed literature for teenagers, called "one of the few classics in the field," was widely praised by critics. In 2000, School Library Journal named Annie on My Mind to its list of 100 books that shaped the 20th century.

As Fox observes, "The book was also burned, banned and destined to become the subject of a federal censorship case."

In 1993, after a gay-rights group, Project 21, donated copies of Annie on My Mind to dozens of schools in and around Kansas City, Missouri, a local minister publicly burned the book. The school board in Olathe, Kansas, about 20 miles away, voted to remove it from school library shelves.

In response, a group comprising students, parents, and at least one teacher filed a federal suit, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association. In 1995, United States District Court Judge George Thomas Van Bebber ruled that the book's removal was unconstitutional, and it was returned to the library.

As a result of the case, in which she testified, Garden became an outspoken opponent of censorship. Her 1999 novel, The Year They Burned the Books, deals with the subject.

In an interview in 2001, Garden recounted that as a young lesbian in the 1950s, she looked in vain for books about "my people," adding, "I did find some paperbacks with lurid covers in the local bus station, but they ended with the gay character's committing suicide, dying in a car crash, being sent to a mental hospital or 'turning' heterosexual."

In contrast, Annie on My Mind has a happy ending. The heroines, after a period of anguished separation, appear destined to be reunited.

Donald E. Hall in his glbtq.com survey of Children's Literature praises the novel for its frank approach to adolescent female homosexuality and concludes that the novel, which has never been out of print since its publication in 1982, "remains timely in its honest representation of homophobia among teenagers and in the school system."

Over the years, Garden received numerous letters from readers wanting to know what happened to Annie and Liza after they became adults. She responded to the question in a 2011 interview with the journal Teacher Librarian.

"I imagine that after college, Annie and Liza moved in together; that they're in touch with their families, who accept and love them; that Annie is still singing and Liza is working as an architect; and that perhaps they're married--depending on where they live, but since they may well live in New York, they probably are married now--and that they may even be bringing up children of their own."

Garden was born in Boston on May 15, 1938, and reared in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York City and its suburbs.

Planning a career in the theater, she studied acting and lighting design at Columbia University, where she earned a B.F.A. in 1961. She subsequently earned an M.A. in speech from Columbia Teachers College.

After a period of working OffBroadway and in summer stock, she began a career working for publishers and began writing her own books.

Her first two books for young people, the novel What Happened in Marston, about racial violence, and the nonfiction work Berlin: City Split in Two, were published in 1971.

Among the many honors Garden received are the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Margaret A. Edwards Award, for lasting contributions to young-adult literature, from the American Library Association.

Garden and Scott maintained homes both in Carlisle, Massachusetts and Tremont, Maine.

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