Books
8:04 am
Sat December 21, 2013

Today, Magazine's Kid Bylines Read Like 'Pulitzer Prize Roll Call'

Originally published on Sat December 21, 2013 10:30 am

It sounds practically made up — a children's monthly magazine that published works by William Faulkner, E.B. White and Eudora Welty when they were just kids. But it's true.

It was called St. Nicholas Magazine and, as Weekend Edition literary detective Paul Collins tells host Scott Simon, it was started by Mary Mapes Dodge, a popular 1870s children's author.

According to Collins, St. Nicholas launched in 1873 and was full of sheet music, illustrations, and needlepoint and stamp collecting tips. But what really set it apart was its young contributors.

"You would often see kids sending in letters to Victorian children's magazines and occasionally they'd run a picture that a kid had sent in or a little poem or something like that," Collins says, "but [St. Nicholas] would actually give over 12 pages at the end of the magazine for this department. So it was really a major part of the magazine and, by a lot of accounts, it was the first section that a lot of kids turned to when they got their new issue."


Interview Highlights

On Mildred Augustine, one of the magazine's young contributors

That's a name that's not going to ring many bells for most people, but she became better known a decade later, in 1929, as Carolyn Keene — which was her pen name — and that was for writing the first Nancy Drew books. She wrote quite a few of the early ones, actually.

This is a piece that she sent in in 1919, when she was 13 years old, and it's titled called "The Courtesy":

"Mrs. Gardner sat gazing out of the window. In her lap lay a letter. The door opened and her daughter Andrea entered the room. Mrs. Gardner, smiling faintly, said, "I have received a letter from Aunt Jane, who will arrive next week to spend the winter with us." For a moment Andrea was too surprised to speak. Then she burst into tears.

"A week later Aunt Jane arrived, parrot, umbrella, baggage, and all. She was even worse than Andrea had imagined."

On future famous writers' non-literary contributions

The first time that Eudora Welty got into the magazine, it was for this kind of lovely pen-and-ink drawing of a beach scene, which is not what you would necessarily think of with her work.

But you really get a sense of ... the creative roving around of kids before they've established their literary identity: F. Scott Fitzgerald sent in photography; Faulkner sent in drawings; [future short story and sports writer] Ring Lardner — I especially like this — he sent in poetry and puzzles.

On the magazine's focus on nature

One thing that's really kind of striking about the magazine was that it really had an emphasis, and quite deliberately, on a love of nature and the outdoors. And part of the idea behind the [magazine] itself when they started this was they wanted to get children thinking about nature, writing about it; they wanted children to empathize with nature and with animals. The idea being that it would really help them also empathize and understand their fellow people as well.

One thing that I found kind of funny about this was that E.B. White kind of cracked the code pretty early on. It was actually a neighbor kid that said, "Well, if you want to get published in the magazine, write something nice about an animal." ... He later on talked about it as being the first time that he could remember really deliberately pitching something for what he knew an editor wanted.

On the modern magazine that most closely resembles St. Nicholas

Probably the closest thing might be something like Stone Soup, which is a magazine that's been around since the '70s which has features [and], I think entirely, art by children. It kind of is working off the same idea.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now, this sounds practically made up: A children's monthly magazine that published works by William Faulkner. E.B. White. Eudora Welty, Rachel Carson. and Ring Lardner when they were just kids. But it's true. WEEKEND EDITION's long lost literary detective Paul Collins has looked into the St. Nicholas Magazine, and joins us now from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks so much for being with us, Paul.

PAUL COLLINS, BYLINE: Oh, good to be here.

SIMON: First, an amazingly appropriate seasonal title. Tell us about this magazine.

COLLINS: Yeah, St. Nicholas, despite the yuletide name that it carried, was actually a monthly. And it was started by Mary Mapes Dodge, who was a children's author in her own right in the 1870s. And it was this really kind of wonderful magazine that was full of sheet music, all kinds of illustrations, thrilling stories, etc., etc. But what really made it stand out was that it also had children contributing to it.

SIMON: And we ran through some of the names. But what I found interesting is sometimes they were in the magazine for things for which they would not become well-known later on.

COLLINS: Yeah. That's one thing that really struck me. For instance, the first time that Eudora Welty got into the magazine, it was for this kind of lovely pen and ink drawing of a beach scene, which is not what you would necessarily think of with her work. But you really get a sense of just, I don't know, kind of the creative roving around of kids before they have established their literary identity. Faulkner sent in drawings. Ring Lardner - I especially like this - he sent in poetry and puzzles.

SIMON: And, of course, we're talking about one of the great sports writers and, of course, great novelists. But puzzles, I don't believe he ever had a reputation as a puzzle master. What do you notice about some of the back issues as you read through them now?

COLLINS: You know, one thing that's really kind of striking about the magazine was that it really had an emphasis, and quite deliberately, on a love of nature and the outdoors. And part of the idea behind the department itself when they started this was they wanted to get children to empathize with nature and with animals. The idea being that it would really help them also empathize and understand their fellow people as well. One thing that I found kind of funny about this was that E.B. White kind of cracked the code pretty early on. It was actually a neighbor kid that said, well, if you want to get published in the magazine, write something nice about an animal.

SIMON: And arguably, E.B. White never really stopped, did he, come to think of it?

COLLINS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Can you read us something?

COLLINS: Yeah. This was sent in by Mildred Augustine. She became better known a decade later as Carolyn Keene, which was her pen name, and that was for writing the first Nancy Drew books. She wrote quite a few of the early ones, actually. This is a piece that she sent in in 1919, when she was 13 years old, and it's titled called "The Courtesy." I'll just read you the beginning of it.

(Reading) Mrs. Gardner sat gazing out of the window. In her lap lay a letter. The door opened and her daughter Andrea entered the room. Mrs. Gardner, smiling faintly, said, I have received a letter from Aunt Jane, who will arrive next week to spend the winter with us. For a moment Andrea was too surprised to speak. Then she burst into tears. A week later Aunt Jane arrived, parrot, umbrella, baggage, and all. She was even worse than Andrea had imagined.

SIMON: I can see where that's going to wind up in a few years, though, right?

COLLINS: Yeah.

SIMON: I think those of us who are parents of young children know that you see sort of excerpted contributions in magazines, like National Geographic for Kids and some of the Scholastic magazines. But the whole idea of a literary magazine that relies on the contributions of youngsters, remains, I think, pretty distinct.

COLLINS: Yeah, it really does. And I think it's a real mark of the kind of vision that they had behind this magazine. Yeah, you would often see kids sending in letters to Victorian children's magazines, and occasionally they'd run a picture that a kid had sent in or a little poem or something like that. But they would actually give over 12 pages at the end of this magazine for this department. So, it was really a major part of the magazine. And by a lot of accounts, it was the first section that a lot of kids turned to when they got their new issue.

SIMON: Paul Collins is our literary detective. He also happens to teach writing at Portland State University. Thanks very much for being with us again, Paul.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.