Cynthia Irving Voigt is an accomplished storyteller of young adult fiction noted for her “well-developed characters, interesting plots and authentic atmosphere” (Major Authors and Illustrators). Her novels tackle serious topics such as abandonment and racism with a fluent writing style that contains vividly detailed description. Sylvia Paterson Iskander, in a Twentieth-Century Children’s Writers essay, explains why Voigt’s books have great appeal to readers: “Voigt’s understanding of narrative techniques, power to create memorable characters, admirable but not goody-goody, knowledge of problems of youth, and desire to teach by transporting readers into the character’s inner lives results in reversing unpromising, perhaps tragic, situations to positive, optimistic ones” (qted. in “Cynthia Voigt”).
Voigt was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and was the second of five children. She spent most of her childhood in southern Connecticut and was an avid childhood reader of books such as Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and The Black Stallion. One day at her grandmother’s house, she found The Secret Garden. It was the first book she discovered entirely by herself and she adored it. There were not many young adult books at the time so she started to read adult authors such as Shakespeare and Camus. By the time Voigt went to Dana Hall, she knew she wanted to be a writer. At Dana, Cindy was a vibrant and popular student who was successful in academic, social, and athletic endeavors. She was a member of the Cum Laude Society, president of her Senior Class, and played on the field hockey team. She felt her boarding school experience at Dana made a “valuable contribution to her sense of personal independence and intellectual richness.” Winifred Post, a teacher at Dana who taught her in tenth grade and again in twelfth grade Advanced Placement English, was a significant influence in her life. Voigt remembers, “Miss Post made voluminous typewritten comments on papers. Characterized by her unfailing attention to significant detail, these thoughtful, specific comments were immeasurably valuable in helping us recognize both our strengths and our weaknesses as thinkers and writers.”
Voigt went to Smith College and began writing short stories and poems and enrolled in creative writing courses. However, she received little encouragement from her teachers on her writing. After marrying, she started teaching because that was the only position available. Although she did not plan to become a teacher, she noted, “the minute I walked into a classroom, I loved it.” Voigt taught almost every grade from second to twelfth for 20 years. It was while teaching that Voigt realized that she could tell stories for children who were the ages of her students. She began to have many ideas for stories and felt she “had suddenly discovered and was exploring a new country.”
Voigt has garnered many awards including the prestigious Newbery Medal for her 1983 book Dicey’s Song, and the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writer’s Association for The Callender Papers and On Fortune’s Wheel. Her books have been translated into six languages and have won international awards in the Netherlands and West Germany. In 1989, Voigt received the Dana Hall Distinguished Alumna Award.