In Memory: Virginia Buckley

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Virginia Buckley, esteemed and beloved editor, died on Oct. 21 at her home in Leonia, New Jersey. She was 91.

Obituary: Virginia Buckley from Publishers Weekly by Shannon Maughan. Peek: “Buckley was a novice editor at the publisher Thomas Y. Cromwell in 1971 when she was paired with a writer named Katherine Paterson, who had submitted the manuscript for her first novel.”

Born on May 11, 1929 in Manhattan, she grew up in Brooklyn. She graduated summa cum laude from Wellesley College and earned an M.A. from Columbia University.

Early in her editorial career, she began working with Katherine, a relationship turned friendship that spanned four decades. Buckley edited Paterson’s Newbery winning Bridge to Terabithia (1977) and Jacob Have I Loved (1980) as well as her National Book Award winning The Master Puppeteer (1975) and The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978)(all published by Thomas Y. Crowell) as well as other titles.

In her piece for Publishers Weekly, Remembering Virginia Buckley, Paterson wrote, “I was a slush pile refugee, and yet, from the first letter she wrote me . . . I realized with amazement that this New York City editor regarded both me and my work with respect. Although I might often doubt my own ability as a writer, she never seemed to.”

Katherine Paterson and Virginia Buckley

Buckley also edited the work of Gary D. Schmidt, including his two Newbery Honor books Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004) and The Wednesday Wars (2007) as well as Okay for Now (2011)(all published by Clarion), a National Book Award finalist. Buckley and Schmidt met while he was working on a biography of Katherine Paterson.

According to Shelf Awareness article Behind the Scenes with Editor Virginia Buckley, “Shortly after Schmidt interviewed Buckley, she received a manuscript from him in a blue folder with no letter.” She loved it and continued to publish his work. Of Buckley, Schmidt said, “She was absolutely indomitable.”

Rosemary Brosnan, vice president and editorial director of Quill Tree Books and Heartdrum at HarperCollins Children’s Books shared with Publishers Weekly how immediately after Buckley offered her a job, her mother died. “  . . . she said she would hire a temp in the meantime and would wait a month or as long as I needed. I’ve never forgotten her immense kindness, at a time when I surely needed it.”

In a remembrance of Buckley on her blog, author-illustrator Caroline Arnold wrote, “She took a deep personal involvement in all the books she edited–from working with the author on revisions to final editing and the production of the finished book.”

As news of her death broke, industry colleagues, paid their respects: Khosrou Daniel Nayeri, Nancy Paulsen, and Andrew Karre.

Cynsational Notes

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.