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Wicked Author and UAlbany Alum Gregory Maguire '76: Research Libraries Fuel the Imagination

Wicked Author and UAlbany alum Gregory Maguire '76 listens as he is introduced as the guest speaker at the recent Empire Collaborations Academic Librarians 2014 and SUNYLA 2014 Conferences at UAlbany. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 26, 2014) -- The library is an adequate metaphor for the human imagination, best-selling author and University at Albany alum Gregory Maguire ’76 recently told librarians from around the state at a conference at UAlbany. A research library, like the UAlbany library where he once worked as an undergraduate during the summer and a semester or two, was a place of riches, where he could get lost in the stacks of books and fuel his imagination by reading fiction, fantasy, and fairy tales. Maguire, best-known for Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), which was adapted as a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, was guest speaker at the Empire Collaborations Academic Librarians 2014 and SUNYLA 2014 Conferences at UAlbany.

“I am a person who lives and dies by libraries,” said Maguire, noting that the story of Wicked first began in the library. The author received his B.A. from UAlbany, and is a scholar of children’s literature.

Growing up for Maguire, libraries became a means of “escaping from the well-meaning restrictions of a parochial childhood existence.” Maguire said the towers of UAlbany glittered as appealingly to him as the Emerald City. He recalled how, as a child, he was absorbed by L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

He could find only one other book by Baum in Albany’s local public libraries. Maguire’s first encounter with a research library was at age 12, when he asked his father to look for those missing Oz books at the State Education Department library. The librarian told his father that the vast library did not carry the books. They were considered to be the Nancy Drew or Goosebumps books of children’s literature. Maguire soon learned that librarians were the arbiters of public taste and they wouldn’t carry those trashy novels. Inter-library loan had not yet been invented, he quipped.

This experience left a murky sadness that led to his “imagining the history of an Oz outside my grasp and beginning to imagine the shape of a history in the absence of a history itself,” said Maguire.

When years later he finally did find the rest of the Oz books, he decided the Albany librarians were right: They were not very good. Yet the library created in him an appetite for Oz that he could only fill himself. Libraries sort out what Maguire referred to as “arresting juxtapositions.” He spoke of luring adult readers into his pages with a simple child’s story.

Maguire sang to his audience from a song in his new book to be released in September, Egg and Spoon, and signed copies of his books after the presentation. Maguire’s other fairy tale “revisions” include Son of a Witch (2005), an Oz sequel; Mirror, Mirror (2003), based on Snow White; and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999), a Cinderella tale.

His work as a consultant in creative writing for children has taken him to speaking engagements nationally and internationally. He is also a founder and co-director of Children’s Literature New England, Inc., a non-profit educational charity.  

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