In this updated and refreshed photographic memoir, two-time Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry offers an intimate look at pivotal moments that affected her life, inspired her writing, and often evolved into her rich and wonderful novels beloved the world over. We asked Lois a few questions about Looking Back. Read on for her Q&A and click here to learn more about the book, which is on sale next month!
What made you decide to write a memoir?
I have always had a fascination with photographs (my book The Silent Boy is based on old photos), and so I thought of this as more an album than a memoir. Looking through my boxes of old photos, I began to perceive that parts of my books were actually related to moments in my own life. After that realization, it became a sort of treasure hunt, trying to piece together those connections.
Is there one particular memory that you think of as a defining moment for you?
I think the 1940 photograph of my sister reading to me, coupled with the one in which I am reading to myself at age three, have a particular meaning for me. Reading has always been such an important part of my life. The realization that I could read, that the world of books now belonged to me, is a strong memory. I love looking at these pictures and bringing that memory back. And, as well, I love seeing photographs of my own grandchildren taking the same delight in books.
The book doesn’t follow a strict chronology. What made you decide to organize it this way?
It’s the way my mind works, the way most of our minds work—jumping from here to there, as one thing reminds you of the next. I never thought of this as an autobiography (which would have depended on a chronological narrative) but rather as bits and pieces, fragments from my own memories. So I put it together in a fragmented way.
It’s fun to see so many of your personal photos in here. Do you still take photos?
I do, but I no longer bother with the old Leica cameras (my father’s, which he gave to me) or the fancy SLRs. And I no longer have a darkroom. So I have become just like every other grandmother, snapping quick photos of my grandchildren with the simplest of cameras, or yet one more view of the Eiffel Tower.
But every now and then someone who remembers that I used to do it professionally will ask me to take a few of their grandchildren. I get a big kick out of doing that. Here’s one I did not long ago for a pal—I think this is actually her great-granddaughter!
Did you have to comb through your books to find the quotes to use, or were they easy to remember?
Looking through photographs—and there were literally hundreds—I found that certain passages from certain books appeared to me. It would have been tough to do it in reverse, choosing book passages and looking for photos to fit. That wouldn’t have worked. It would have been forced.
Of all the places you’ve lived, do you have a favorite?
I remember Japan with immense fondness. I have been back there several times, and the fondness remains. But I also have very happy memories from many other places: the idyllic nature of my childhood in a small Pennsylvania town, and the excitement of my teenage years in New York. And my life now, in Maine! I have happy memories of yesterday, and the way the sunlight late in the afternoon fell on the peonies.
You’ve led what many would consider an extraordinary life. Do you have any words of wisdom?
My life has been entirely unremarkable, not at all extraordinary. I do, though, have an extraordinary appreciation of it, of each day, and I still have a feeling of wonderful anticipation for the next day, the next adventure. I never give anyone advice, and I certainly have very little in the way of wisdom. But I do think it’s important to be grateful for all we have: for friends, and children, and grandchildren—and dogs and flowers and books!
Thanks so much, Lois! To buy the book, click here, and for more HMH Books by Lois Lowry, click here!