By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Twenty-five years ago, “Wicked” exploded into our consciousness. Gregory Maguire’s bestselling book—and its spinoff blockbuster musical—helped us see the Wicked Witch of the West in a different light. Maguire’s green-skinned witch, Elphaba, taught us about the ambiguities of evil.
Elphaba’s name was created with thought and intent
Using the initials L, F, and B, Maguire honored Lyman Frank Baum, the author of 1900s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” He said, “I liked the word (Elphaba) because it carries sonic echoes of words like ‘fabulous,’ ‘elfin,’ or ‘alphabet’; or, one might say, the magic set of letters needed to spell a magic spell. It had to have a certain unsavory quality—a word we might wrinkle our lips over, not embrace as a sonorous sound for a blameless sweetheart…”
The perfect home
“Wicked” was created in Massachusetts, where Maguire has lived for the past 42 years, apart from five years spent in London. Here in Massachusetts, Maguire and his partner, Andy Newman, adopted three children and then married in 2004. “We have never had any difficulty, social or political, with being two men raising three children from infancy—indeed, we might have found ourselves in the most welcoming haven possible, given Massachusetts’ leadership in the matter of legalizing gay marriage,” he said.
Maguire grew up in Albany, New York, the fourth of seven siblings. Tragically, his mother died while giving birth to him. His father eventually remarried his mother’s childhood best friend and, from his toddlerhood on, Maguire was raised by his second mother and his father. The seeds of Maguire’s storytelling were planted when he was a child. He said, “I was encouraged by the benign neglect of my parents and by general scantness of family funds for other entertainments. Making things up with paper and pencil was fully engaging for me when there was nothing else to do. My parents were both writers, one professional and one avocational. Their love of language, story, and the benefits of reading permeated the household.”
Finding his voice
Maguire’s entrance into adult fiction with “Wicked” was preceded by a career focused on children’s literature. He earned a master’s in the subject from Simmons College (now university) and a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University. He taught at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and co-founded a nonprofit, Children’s Literature New England, Inc. Maguire published many children’s books, including “Egg and Spoon,” which has been optioned by Universal Studios to be made into a live-action major musical film.
Then there was “Wicked,” which changed Maguire’s life. “Quite simply, the financial security that arrived in the wake of ‘Wicked’’s publication allowed me the confidence to begin the adoption process. So “Wicked” has always been at the top of my list of favorite publications of mine because it allowed me my family,” said Maguire.
Maguire’s reimagining of classic children’s tales has been the basis of many other bestselling books, including “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” (“Cinderella”), “After Alice” (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”), and “Lost” (“A Christmas Carol”).
Unexpected inspiration during pandemic
During these past few months, COVID has impacted Maguire’s writing schedule. “I didn’t intend to write a book in the year 2020. I had done a book last year, and I keep saying it is time to slow down a little. But COVID kept me from my annual trips to Greece and to France and locked me inside my own habits,” he said. Continuing, “One of my habits is looking out the windows of my imagination as well as of those over my kitchen sink. Before I knew it, by mid-March, I was back to writing fiction—and finished, revised, and sold the book, “The Brides of Maracoor,” which will come out in October 2021.”
Cherishing each moment
As for aging, Maguire summed up his view, “Every day of my life, I am enriched by two sets of apprehensions. They give me a kind of binocular appreciation. One perception is that of my own animal sense of being alive hour by hour and day by day; the other is that of my moral sense, intensified by knowing I owe my very existence to the life my mother gave me. In this way, I am grateful and shall cherish every day, even painful, worrying, or down-hearted days, with as full a regard for the nuances of human experience as I can muster.”
For more information about Gregory Maguire, visit www.gregorymaguire.com.