In the 1970s, when Susan Cooper was writing “The Dark Is Rising” series that won her a Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor Award, and two Carnegie Honor Awards, the category of young adult fiction didn’t yet exist in the publishing world.
“People would ask me what I write and I’d say ‘children’s books,’” the British-born author who now lives in Marshfield said. “And they’d say, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute; do you do your own pictures?’”
In the decades that followed, literature written for tweens and teens expanded to the point that publishers added new classifications like “middle grade” and “young adult,” but Cooper said she has always simply written what interested her.
Her most recent book, “The Shortest Day,” was published this past October.
But beyond the new classifications, Cooper, 84, steadfastly maintains that she pays little attention to the changes in the publishing world. She recalled being interviewed once alongside the late children’s author Maurice Sendak. “We were both asked whom we write for, and we each said, ‘I write for me.’ By which we meant the image inside my head when I write is myself when young. So from that point of view, nothing has changed.”
Cooper’s earliest novels were set in the England and Wales of her childhood; she emigrated to the United States in her late 20s and lived in Cambridge, where she raised five children.
Following the death of her second husband, the actor Hume Cronyn, in 2003 she settled in Marshfield and built a house on what she describes as “an almost-island at the mouth of the North River, which divides Scituate and Marshfield. I keep a tide table on the wall of my study.” That setting, and the history of its 17th-century Native American inhabitants, inspired her 2013 book, “Ghost Hawk.”
When musician John Langstaff revived the “Christmas Revels” stage show in Cambridge in the 1970s, he asked Cooper to write a performance poem for the program. The result was “The Shortest Day,” a poem about the winter solstice, and her 2019 book is an adaptation of that poem, published by Candlewick Press in Somerville.
“At the moment I’m waiting for my next idea,” she said. “At readings, children always ask me, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ As if there was a tree in your backyard and you just shake a branch to see what falls down. I wait for the next idea.”
But whatever that next idea may be, Cooper is confident her work will find an audience. “Children are as good readers as ever,” she said. “It’s hard to know just what influence video games and the Internet are having on reading, but prophesies of gloom and doom [concerning children’s literacy] are nothing new. People used to say television was killing reading.
“Given the right teachers and librarians, kids will go on reading. The existence of imagination is not going to change. And that’s what books are: the imagination of a writer reaching out to the imagination of a reader.”Nancy Shohet West can be reached at [email protected]