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Susan Cooper has been writing for over 30 years. In this time she has written numerous newspaper articles, books for children and adults, screenplays for TV, the cinema and a Broadway play. As a writer she is hard to classify, what is universally accepted is that she is a writer with extraordinary gifts.
Born in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England in May 1935, Susan Cooper attended Slough High School before going up to Oxford University. At Somerville College she read English. During her time at Oxford she was the first woman ever to edit the University magazine, Cherwell. After graduating with an MA in English, she began work as a reporter on the Atticus Column of London's The Sunday Times (her first boss was Ian Fleming). She later became a feature writer.
Her first books were born during this period. Written after work and at weekends, her first was a so-called science fiction novel, Mandrake. And in response to a publishing house competition for a children's adventure story, Over Sea, Under Stone.
In 1963 she left England to marry an American, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and went "rather nervously" to live in the USA. She wrote two more books for adults: a study of America, Behind the Golden Curtain and a biography of J.B. Priestley, Portrait of An Author.
A further novel, the autobiographical Dawn of Fear published in 1970, was written before continuing the Dark Is Rising series. Dawn of Fear is a solitary, looking at the experience of living in war-time Britain through the eyes of a child. The book is almost totally autobiographical except for the fact, as the author herself states, "I turned myself into a boy".
It is, however The Dark Is Rising series which is synonymous with the name Susan Cooper. The first in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, is perhaps more readily identified as a family adventure story than the other DR books - but it is much more than that. In Over Sea, Under Stone we have the first insights into the battle between the Dark and the Light and the introduction to the Arthurian and Celtic myths and legends which permeate the whole of the sequence. After completing Over Sea, Under Stone the reader has experienced only a taster of what is to come in the remaining stories. During the dozen or so years that followed publication of Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark Is Rising series was written, the remaining books in the series are: The Dark Is Rising published in 1973, Greenwitch published in 1974, The Grey King, published in 1975 and the final book in the sequence Silver on the Tree, published in 1977.
The Dark Is Rising series is a triumph. The series of books is moulded by Susan Cooper's own background and each book effectively weaves a path between the stuff of myth and legend and the lives of everyday people - people like us. One of the books in the series, The Grey King, won the Newbery Medal in 1976. The prize is awarded yearly by the American Library Institute for outstanding contribution to Children's Literature. It is perhaps a testament to the whole series that the award was made. The Grey King particularly looks at the human cost of the battle between the Dark and the Light. It is a powerful mix which explores the emotions of destiny, friendship love and loss. The DR books were completed in 1977.
After completion of the DR series, Susan Cooper began to work in the theatre, beginning by writing scripts for the annual Christmas Revels directed by John Langstaff. Several short plays, and her poem The Shortest Day, are still performed in Revels productions throughout the USA. Her first major play Foxfire was written in collaboration with the Canadian actor Hume Cronyn. It tells the story of the end of a way-of-life for an Appalachian family. The play was performed in Stratford, Ontario and at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis before transferring to New York, where it began a seven-month run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1983. On Broadway, the play was a vehicle for the combined talents of husband-and-wife actors Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; Tandy won a Tony award for her performance in the play.
During this time Susan Cooper began work on another book, Seaward, which saw a return to the fantasy elements of her earlier DR work. This period also saw Susan Cooper begin a new dimension to her writing career. Based upon her appreciation of Foxfire the actress Jane Fonda asked Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn to write a television screenplay from a book - Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker. The screenplay was written and the film was made. Fonda won a best actress Emmy award for her part in the film. Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn won the Humanitas Award for their screenplay. Susan Cooper continued to write screenplays, alongside her books. The play Foxfire was adapted by Susan Cooper for TV and starred John Denver alongside Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The film won Jessica Tandy an Emmy for her performance and earned Susan Cooper an Emmy nomination. She earned another for an adaptation of Terry Kay's novel To Dance With the White Dog, which won Hume Cronyn a Tony award for his performance. To Dance with the White Dog was the final TV film which combined the talents of Susan Cooper, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (Jessica Tandy died in September 1994).
During the 1980's and the early 1990's, Susan Cooper wrote the text for a number of children's picture-books. Some of these books explored traditional folk-tales and legends and re-told them for younger readers. The first of these picture books Jethro and the Jumbie (illustrated by Ashley Bryan), a Caribbean tale, started a run of books that culminated with the publication of Danny and the Kings in 1993 (illustrated by Joseph A. Smith). Susan returned with a new picture book in 2002, called Frog.
In 1993 Susan Cooper returned to the children's book list with The Boggart. The Boggart continued Susan Cooper's theme of myth and legend in a new and exciting way. This novel contains a departure from the flavour of the DR books. It has a very modern slant and succeeds in bridging the Atlantic Ocean from the Western Highlands of Scotland to Toronto in Canada. The Boggart is a delightful book. It is both touching and humorous and confirms Susan Cooper's ability to mould the traditional landscape with the modern world of cities, computers and technology. Susan Cooper has written a companion to The Boggart called The Boggart and the Monster, which was published in 1997.
In July 1996 Susan Cooper married her long-time friend and writing partner, Hume Cronyn. Hume died in June 2003, leaving, Susan says, "a big hole in life." Susan continues to live at their home in Connecticut, New England, USA.
In 2000 Susan Cooper published perhaps her finest book since The Dark Is Rising sequence, King of Shadows. It has won numerous awards and tells the story of a young actor Nat Field, transported back in time to act at the Globe Theatre with William Shakespeare. King of Shadows was, of course, dedicated to Hume, inscribed 'For my actor'.
In Spring 2002 her new novel was published, Green Boy - a tale of two young boys battling to save their own special place in the Bahamas; a setting, like the Wales of the Dark Is Rising, that is close to the author's heart. And now, Susan has added a new fantasy, The Magician's Boy to her list of work, a chapter book that tells a delightful story, set in the world of story.
Stemming from the lectures Susan often gives, a very welcome addition to her list of works is the collection of essays on children's literature, Dreams and Wishes; it is perhaps this book which provides the greatest insight into her world of writing and is must for all fans of Susan Cooper.
Great Britain, 1998, «The Boggart» of Susan Cooper