Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Lives/One Life

For my entire career, I have had two distinct professional lives: as a children's book author and as a philosophy professor. I started out in graduate school in a doctoral program in philosophy at Princeton. Then I dropped out and went to work in children's book publishing in New York City, as a secretary and editorial assistant at Four Winds Press/Scholastic, where I had my first children's book accepted for publication.

I thought I was done with philosophy forever, but one late December day, on a whim, I drifted over to the APA (American Philosophical Assocation) annual conference, held that year at the Sheraton, and bumped into a dear former college professor, Henry Shue, who was helping to found a little think tank at the University of Maryland called the Center for Philosophy and Public Policy. They were looking to hire an editor and director of publications, Henry told me - someone who had maybe gone to graduate school in philosophy but hadn't finished her dissertation, someone who had maybe worked in publishing in New York for a while. . . . I ended up taking the job and worked at the University of Maryland for a full decade, writing and publishing a children's book a year as I also created and produced a quarterly journal/newsletter and edited a scholarly book series, and finally, finished my long-unfinished Princeton Ph.D. In 1992 I started teaching philosophy at the University of Colorado and I've been there ever since, still writing and publishing a children's book a year.

I have always loved having two lives. Neither life ever gets boring. Each life gives me an excuse for why I'm not more successful in the other one. Sure, I've never won the Newbery Medal, but how many other children's book authors are also tenured professors of philosophy? Sure, I've never written any big important philosophical tome, but how many other philosophy professors have published over 40 children's books? When I go to philosophy gatherings, everyone wants to ask me about my children's books. When I go to children's book gatherings, everyone wants to talk to me about philosophy. I never run out of topics of conversation.

But as the years have gone by, I've become just a tiny bit weary of the strain of maintaining two entire lives. Even one life can seem so daunting! So lately I've been seeking out ways to bring my two lives into greater harmony with each other. Thus, this morning I submitted an abstract for an article for a proposed collection on philosophy and children's literature - what could be more up my alley than this? My piece would be a Nietzschean reading of Marcus Pfister's best-selling picture book The Rainbow Fish, showing how the Rainbow Fish renounces master morality for slave morality and trades his exceptional and distinctive beauty for "the universal green meadow happiness of the herd." And I was just asked to write an essay for a collection on romanticism and the child, showing how certain themes in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau manifest themselves in recent children's literature. I spent yesterday at the library happily digging for texts to use for this project and think I have the perfect ones - more on this later!

So: maybe it's time to move toward one life, not two, a single life enriched by both my love of philosophy and my love of children's literature.


  1. Claudia, you are leading the most interesting life!

  2. Claudia, that's a great solution - to combine your areas rather than give one up. I'm going to think about that! Happy New Year!
    --Carol Linda