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ABOUT ELIZABETH HALL
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Elizabeth Hall’s life has always centered on the written word. Both her paternal grandparents were librarians, and since she lived in a three-generational family, she was exposed to print at an early age. Each evening, she sat on a grandparent’s lap as the evening paper was read. The headlines were her primer, and by the time she was 18 months old, Elizabeth had learned to identify each letter. This was during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and so the first word she could read was not “cat” but “Capone”—the name of a notorious gangster whose exploits always made the front page.
As a two-year-old, her favorite spot was in front of the picture-book shelves at Grandmother’s library.
Sitting on the floor, she paged through books pulled from the shelves. Even though she couldn’t read, she “read” them out loud. From hearing the stories again and again, she had memorized the text.
It was not at all certain that Elizabeth would become a writer, even though she was an avid reader long before she started school. She read continually, washing dishes with a book propped on the windowsill and vacuuming the carpet with a book in one hand.
One hot summer, when she was about nine years old, Elizabeth decided to take the obvious step and become a writer. She decided to write a mystery story. She rolled a clean, white sheet of paper into her father’s typewriter. Then she stared at the paper--and stared and stared. Slowly, she wrote a sentence and stopped. What would she say? She hadn’t bothered to think about her story. She had no plot. She had no characters. After an hour of writing and crossing out and writing again, she stopped. Wondering how authors ever managed to finish a book, she crumpled up the paper and put away the typewriter. Then she ran outside to Join her brothers who were running across the lawn through the sprinkler spray.
The idea of being an author departed for many years. Then Elizabeth met Scott O’Dell, author of Island of the Blue Dolphins. He had come to the small agricultural town of Shafter where she was public librarian, for a book fair. (You can visit Scott’s website at: www.scottodell.com.) Encouraged by Scott, she wrote her first children’s book, Micromegas, which was published in 1967.
After writing another four children’s books, Elizabeth found that her work as a magazine editor now left no free time. For nine years, she had been an editor on Psychology Today. While carrying out the duties of Managing Editor, she conducted many interviews with eminent psychologists, including Jean Piaget, B.F. Skinner, and Erik Eriksson. Among the non-psychologists she interviewed were circus-animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, Nobel-prize winning ethologist Niko Tinbergen, anthropologist Sir Edmund Leach, and journalist Arthur Koestler. These conversations led to a series of educational films: one with B.F. Skinner and nine with management consultant Peter Drucker, in which Elizabeth and Peter talked with noted business and management executives about business in the 1970s.
When Psychology Today left California for New York City in 1975, Elizabeth moved with it. A year later she left to start Human Nature, a new magazine in the human sciences. Three years later, when Human Nature folded, she began writing college textbooks in the field of psychology and human development.
During this time, the books written by her husband, Scott O’Dell, were her only link to children’s literature. It was not until Scott died, after 23 years of marriage, that she returned to the world of children’s books. Scott had made her promise to finish Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, his manuscript in progress.
Besides writing children’s books, Elizabeth edits and publishes Fezzinews, the newsletter of her International Dickens Society’s chapter. She also administers the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, established by Scott before his death. When not working in her garden, she often travels. While on her trips, she enjoys snorkeling, scuba diving, white-water rafting, parasailing, and swimming with dolphins.
Nearly 11 years after Scott's death, Elizabeth married Nat Gilbert, another writer. She still lives in the house built on the shore of a lake that she and Scott bought when they moved to the New York area.
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Last Updated: June 11, 2009