Louise Fitzhugh (October 5, 1928 – November 19, 1974) was an American author, born in Memphis, Tennessee. She wrote and illustrated children’s and young adult books, the best known and most beloved of which remains Harriet the Spy.
Fitzhugh’s first work was Suzuki Beane (1961) – a beatnik spoof of Eloise. Collaborating with Sandra Scoppattone on this book, she functioned as the illustrator. Though the book was lightly tossed off as a parody, it proved charming and well done. Today, this rare book is much sought after. In addition to her writing, Fitzhugh had a minor career as an artist, with her drawings shown in New York galleries.
The daughter of a well-to-do family, Fitzhugh attended Miss Hutchinson’s school and went on to attend several different colleges. It is believed that she never attained a degree. She was married briefly to a man, but after their divorce, she was mainly interested in women. She didn’t, however, form any lifelong attachments.
Harriet the Spy, published in 1964, was about a young girl whose parents were more interested in their social life, leaving her in the care of her beloved nanny, who she called Ole Golly. The book explored independence, loneliness, and observation, as Harriet, obsessed with her notebook, recorded in blunt detail what she saw in the world around her.
Its gritty realism, rarely seen in books of its era, made Harriet the Spy a bit controversial. It was banned outright by many schools. In other quarters, it was highly praised, and was named by the New York Times Outstanding Book Award in 1964. In the end, it set the stage for more realistic books for kids, with characters grappling with real situations and problems. Harriet was seen by some as a too-flawed heroine, but to others, that was a great part of her appeal. The book remains a modern classic, and Harriet is a beloved literary heroine.
Fitzhugh won a posthumous Emmy in 1979 for The Tap Dance Kid, a made-for-television adaptation of her book Nobody’s Family is Going to Change.
Fitzhugh produced two Harriet sequels, but neither was as successful as the original. These were The Long Secret and Double Agent. Still, she had a knack for expressing what was often in a kid’s heart, as in this line from The Long Secret:I “Dear Me: Why am I so different? Why am I never happy? Is everybody like this or just me? I am truly a mouse. I have no desire at all to be me.”
She didn’t have as long and prolific career as she might have, as her life was cut short when she died in 1974 at age 46 of a brain aneurysm. Two more books, also spun off from the original Harriet The Spy —Sport and Nobody’s Family is Going to Change — were published after her death.
- Harriet the Spy
- The Long Secret
- Harriet the Spy, Double Agent
- Nobody’s Family is Going to Change
Biography on Louise Fitzhugh
- Louise Fitzhugh by Virginia L. Wolf
Film adaptations of Louise Fitzhugh’s works
- Harriet the Spy (1996)
- Louise Fitzhugh on Wikipedia
- Adventures in Feministory: Louise Fitzhugh and Harriet the Spy
- Confessions of a Starving artist: Louise Fitzhugh’s “Harriet the Spy”
- Spying on Louise Fitzhugh
- Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy
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