Elsa Marston (1933-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1933, in Newton, MA; Ethnicity: "Anglo-Saxon." Education: Attended Vassar College, 1950-52; University of Iowa, B.A., 1954; Radcliffe College, M.A., 1957; attended American University of Beirut, 1957-59; Indiana University, M.S. (art education), 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis.
American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, instructor in English, 1959; Pig Industry Development Authority, London, England, secretary, 1959-60; American Society for Public Administration, Chicago, IL, editor and liaison, 1960-63; freelance writer, 1983—; instructor, Institute of Children's Literature, 1985-89. Artist, with exhibitions in Tunisia, 1975, and New York, 1979. President of cooperative nursery school, 1976-77; coordinator of local jail improvement committee and director of local art gallery, both 1980-81.
National Society of Arts and Letters, Authors Guild, Authors League, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Nature Conservancy.
Illinois Wesleyan Writers' Conference, short story award, 1983; Society of Children's Book Writers, Oklahoma chapter, young-adult short story contest winner, 1989; Highlights for Children historical article award, 1991; Highlights for Children fiction contest winner, 1992, and International Reading Association Paul A. Witty Short Story Award, 1994, both for "The Olive Tree"; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, and Friends of American Writers runner-up award for juvenile fiction, both 1997, and Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, 1998, all for The Fox Maiden.
The Cliffs of Cairo (juvenile novel), Beaufort Book Co. (New York, NY), 1981, new edition, Hoopoe Books (Cairo, Egypt), 1998.
How to Be a Helper (juvenile short stories), Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1982.
Cynthia and the Runaway Gazebo, illustrated by Fristo Henstra, Tambourine/Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
A Griffin in the Garden, Tambourine/Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Free as the Desert Wind, Hoopoe Books (Cairo, Egypt), 1996.
The Fox Maiden, illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
The Ugly Goddess, Cricket Books (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Figs and Fate: Stories about Growing up in the Arab World, Braziller (New York, NY), 2005.
Some Artists: Their Lives, Loves, and Luck, Cambridge Book Co. (New York, NY), 1983.
Art in Your Own Home Town, Cambridge Book Co. (New York, NY), 1984.
The Politics of Education in Colonial Algeria, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1984.
Mysteries in American Archaeology, Walker (New York, NY), 1986.
The Lebanese in America, Lerner Publications (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.
Lebanon: New Light in an Ancient Land, Dillon/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
The Ancient Egyptians, Marshall Cavendish (Freeport, NY), 1995.
(With son, Ramsay M. Harik) Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1996, revised and expanded edition, 2003.
Muhammad of Mecca, Prophet of Islam, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1999.
The Phoenicians, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Byzantine Empire, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.
(Adaptor) The Phoenix and the Carpet (juvenile play; based on the novel by E. Nesbit), first produced in Bloomington, IN, 1984.
Stories anthologized in Join In: Multiethnic Stories for Young Adults, edited by Donald Gallo, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993; Short Circuits: Thirteen Shocking Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, edited by Gallo, Dell (New York, NY), 1992; Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories about Faith and Belief, edited by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002; First Crossing, and Other Stories of Immigrant Teens, edited by Gallo, Candlewick Press (New York, NY), 2004; and Memories of Sun: Stories of Africa and America, edited by Jane Kurtz, Greenwillow Press (New York, NY), 2004. Also contributor of essays, reviews, and other articles to numerous other books. Contributor of stories, articles, and reviews to periodicals, including ASK, Calliope, Cricket, Faces, Highlights for Children, Multicultural Review, Hopscotch, Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Odyssey, Single Parent, Looking Glass Online, and Writer.
Elsa Marston incorporates her lifelong interest in Middle-Eastern history and culture into both nonfiction and fiction for younger readers. "Having lived in several countries of the Middle East and North Africa, with family ties through marriage, I am still very much a New England Yankee at heart but drawn to the history and peoples of the Arab world," she once explained. In her fiction works, which include A Griffin in the Garden, The Fox Maiden, and The Ugly Goddess, she often combines everyday events with an element of the fantastic. In The Fox Maiden a mountain fox draws on magic powers to transform itself into a beautiful young woman so that it can become part of the human society in the valley below, and a young Egyptian princess who is destined to become the wife of the Sun king Amun is released from kidnappers and reunited with her true love, a Greek prince, through the aid of the Ugly Goddess Taweret. In School Library Journal Angela J. Reynolds praised The Ugly Goddess for its "fast-paced story and interesting characters," while in Booklist Hazel Rochman dubbed the book a "quirky novel of ancient Egypt [that] blends well-researched history, fiction, and fantasy." Much of Marston's work is nonfiction, which she has produced in the hopes that it will help "young Americans acquire a better understanding of the Middle East, present and past." Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, which Marston coauthored with her eldest son, Ramsay M. Harik, was praised by School Library Journal reviewer Jane Halsall for offering young readers "a remarkable look at the diversity and changes in the lives of contemporary Middle Eastern women" within a culture that is undergoing revolutionary changes. In a 2003 update of the 1996 edition, Marston and Harik expand their discussion to include recent information on women's advances in the areas of health, politics, religion, and veiling, and expand their focus to include Afghanistan. In Booklist, Hazel Rochman noted the book's balanced perspective, and cited the authors' "extensive personal experience in the region" as contributing to the book's value. Other nonfiction works include three volumes in Marshall Cavendish's "Cultures of the Past" series: The Ancient Egyptians, The Phoenicians, and The Byzantine Empire. Featuring a wealth of illustrations, the volumes explore some of the unique characteristics of these now-vanished cultures, and open a window into the day-to-day lives of those whose lives were a part of them. In a review of The Byzantine Empire for School Library Journal, Cynthia M. Sturgis praised the book as a "clearly written and well organized" overview of the sophisticated Greek-based culture that, from its base at Constantinople (now Istanbul), withstood numerous attacks by Ottoman and other forces for over a thousand years.
In her work Marston employs a time-honored writer's technique: using the library. "Library research is half the fun," she explained; "I don't think the Internet will ever keep me out of the stacks. After a rough outline of a new story or article—I need some idea where I'm going—I compose on the word processor. Though hardly a stylist, I take pains to write well: I really do like grammar. The revision process—trying to work through the problems that pop up and incorporate new insights—brings me much greater pleasure than pain." Why does Marston write for younger readers? "For more reasons than I can mention: … There are inevitable limitations, and very little fabulous wealth; but the opportunity I find to explore almost anything in the world that interests me—and, above all, to leave some lasting good in the lives of young people—are at the top of my list."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 2003, Jean Franklin, review of The Ugly Goddess, p. 891; April 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, p. 1460.
School Library Journal, December, 2002, Angela J. Reynolds, review of The Ugly Goddess, p. 144; February, 2003, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of The Byzantine Empire, p. 165; May, 2003, Jane Halsall, review of Women in the Middle East, p. 170.
Elsa Marston Web site, http://www.elsamarston.com/ (December 2, 2004).*
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