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Joan (Delano) Aiken (1924-2004) Biography

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for SATA sketch: Born September 4, 1924, in Rye, Sussex, England; died January 4, 2004, in Petworth, West Sussex, England. Author. Aiken was the creator of fantasy, mystery, historical, and other genre books for both children and adults and was well known for the fictional nineteenth-century world she created, beginning with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in which England is governed by Kings James III and Richard IV. The daughter of famous poet Conrad Aiken, who abandoned his family before Joan was born, Aiken was educated at home by her mother for the first twelve years of her life. She then attended Wychwood School, Oxford, for four years and was considered a brilliant student. Despite this apparent promise, she was denied entrance to Somerville College, Oxford, and so she attended secretarial school instead. Her first job was with the British Broadcasting Corporation, where she worked from 1942 to 1943, before being hired by the Ministry of Information in London until 1949, performing a rather tedious job of collating records for the United Nations. The job, of course, was simply for income, and Aiken was already indulging her love of writing, though she would not publish for some years yet. After marrying in 1945, she spent the next ten years occupying her time as wife and mother. When her first husband died suddenly—she would marry again in 1976—Aiken took a job as features editor for Argosy magazine. After five years at Argosy, Aiken worked as a copywriter for a year at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency before finally becoming a full-time author. A highly imaginative writer, Aiken tried her hand at novels, short stories, and plays for young and old audiences alike, while exploring fantasy, fairy tale, alternate history, and humorous adventures, completing more than one hundred books in her lifetime. Though her books for adults are considered accomplished pieces, Aiken became most renowned for her fiction for children, especially the stories set in an alternate England ruled by the Stuart royal family. This series began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962), which won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and continues with sequels such as Black Hearts in Battersea (1964), Night Birds on Nantucket (1966), The Cuckoo Tree (1971), and The Stolen Lake (1981). Aiken also earned an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best juvenile mystery for The Whispering Mountain (1968), and gained great popularity for her humorous tales featuring the characters Arabel and Mortimer, including Tales of Arabel's Raven (1974), Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur (1979), and Mortimer's Cross (1983). A personal favorite of Aiken's was the character Felix Brooke, the son of English and Spanish parents who has adventures in stories set in early nineteenth-century Europe, including Go Saddle the Sea (1977), Bridle the Wind (1983), and The Teeth of the Gale (1988). When writing for adults, the author also enjoyed setting her books in historical times; some of her more popular adult novels include The Smile of the Stranger (1978), The Weeping Ash (1980), and The Girl from Paris (1982). Remaining productive throughout her life, Aiken continued to create highly praised works of fiction into her later years, including the critically acclaimed children's fairy tale The Winter Sleepwalker (1994). Aiken was named a member of the Order of the British Empire for her important contributions to children's literature. Her last books include Ghostly Beasts (2002), The Midwinter Nightingale (2003), and The Witch of Clatteringshaws, which she had completed just before her death.



St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2004, p. B21.

New York Times, January 9, 2004, p. B7.

Times (London, England), January 9, 2004.

Washington Post, January 12, 2004, p. B4.

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