Author's Notes, Authors and Illustrators

A Corner of the Universe Author's Note

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

When I was 9 years old, my parents told my sister and me that we had had another uncle. Stephen had been my mother's younger brother, he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he had hung himself in 1950 when he was 23 years old. What stunned me was not his illness or the details of his death, but the revelation itself. How could I have reached nearly the fifth grade without a single mention of Stephen? How could I have looked through so many albums, spent so many hours with my grandparents, and never have seen a photo, a home movie, any artifact that said, "Stephen was here"? I was both troubled and fascinated by the notion that a person could be kept a secret. (Years later, after I had completed the first draft of A Corner of the Universe, a conversation with my father revealed that it was not Stephen's life that had been a secret, but his death. And his death was not so much a secret as a subject that was so very painful to my grandparents and to my mother and my uncle Rick, that it was simply not spoken of.)

I have no idea how much Adam is like or unlike Stephen. Adam's story is finished now, and I know no more about Stephen than I did a year ago. But somehow he has taken his place on my internal family tree, has become Uncle Stephen, the young man I recently found in my grandparents' old home movies. Real or imaginary, Adam has settled a few things for me, and I thank him for that.

  • Subjects:
    Death, Grief, Loss, Extended Families, Mental Health, Understanding Self and Others
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