I first met the legendary editor/publisher/author Charlotte Zolotow, who has died at the age of 98, sometime in the late 1980s, when she was a guest on the cable television author interview program “In Print,” which I was hosting and co-producing at the time. I was all-a-tremble at the prospect, since I held her in such awe, not only for her fame as an editor and publisher at Harper and Brothers (as it was then named) but also for her authorship of 70 or more distinguished books for children. I needn’t have worried. Charlotte, when I met her, was both warm and wonderful, and I was immediately smitten. Talking with her about her work as an editor and about the many books she wrote, including Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, William’s Doll, and (her first) The Park Book was a lovely experience because she was herself lovely. And insightful. I remember asking her how, as an adult, she wrote such affecting books for children, and she simply said that the emotions she felt as an adult were the same she experienced as a child. What better answer could there be?
I knew Charlotte was always on the lookout for new authors, but I was dumbfounded when, the second time I met her (at her office in New York), she offered me a book contract. That changed my life, making it possible for me to take an early retirement and become a writer, columnist, and editor. And I will always be deeply in her debt for that.
Of course, Charlotte not only changed my life, she also changed books for young readers thanks to her editorial acumen, keen intelligence, and venturesome publishing. During her 53-year-long career at Harper, she worked with such authors as M. E. Kerr, Paul Zindel, Patricia MacLachlan, Francesca Lia Block, Paul Fleischman, John Steptoe, and hosts of others.
So we mark her passing not only with sorrow, but also with deep gratitude for her extraordinary life and career that left the world an inarguably better place.