A Woman to Know: Louise Fitzhugh

Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself, you must always tell the truth. — Louise

(image via Twayne United Authors Series)


You know Harriet, and the marbled composition book, and the binoculars and maybe even the orange Nickelodeon VHS tape (anyone, anyone??) — but do you know Louise Fitzhugh? She's the author behind the fabulously free world Harriet inhabits: a world of witty bon mots and rooftop escapades and timeless inspiration for girl spies everywhere.

Louise moved to New York in 1950 to attend college (Barnard) and to participate in the artist's community as a painter and illustrator. In 1964, she published Harriet the Spy, a book now recognized for its groundbreaking "childhood realism" — as Louise told her publisher, children could handle adult issues. Nobody's Family Is Going to Change walked readers through a world of divorce, abuse and family conflict. And that wasn't too heavy for young readers, she thought. As Louise explained in the book, children are more grown-up than grown-ups think; and as Anna Holmes remembered, "Fitzhugh taught [her] readers that difference, nonconformity, and even subversion should be celebrated in young girls. These qualities are the prerequisites for, and not the enemies of, creativity, curiosity, and insight."

In addition to her landmark Harriet series, Louise was also working on another manuscript, Amelia. Amelia told the story of two teenagers, roaming New York in the 1950s, talking about the crushes they felt for other girls. Louise died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1974, at the age of 46. She never published Amelia — if she had, it would have been the first novel written for teenagers that featured LGBTQ characters their own age.

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