Ursula Nordstrom was a tireless champion of the Harper Collins children’s book creators. Her letters (Dear Genius, Marcus, 1998) are packed with pep talks, lovingly couched within UN’s own brand of self-deprecating humor. She called upon considerable stores of charm and wit to masterfully set authors and illustrators at ease with the trials and tribulations of book making: the creative process, deadlines, and debilitating bouts of self-doubt.
While every good editor strives to be a trustworthy guide, this is where UN’s remarkable gifts were most apparent. When an author or illustrator lagged behind and questioned whether they could or should continue, she gently but determinedly pulled them along. UN’s ability to motivate and inspire are the stuff of legend in children’s publishing and the long line of classics that resulted, stand as testament to the power of empathy in the creative process.
Her letters reveal a confident, yet deeply self-reflective editor who saw herself as a servant to the creative process. Polite persistence coupled with deep trust in her editorial instincts shored up lost, insecure creators throughout their careers. UN was at her best when her talented authors and illustrators were at their lowest points.
In this October 24, 1957 note to Mary Chalmers, an artist and author who illustrated UN’s book, The Secret Language, Ursula calls on her powers of persuasion to convince Ms. Chalmers that sometimes an artist is already equipped with all that she needs – and knowing everything isn’t necessary.
Perfection is the enemy of true art and slaying the dragons of self-doubt is a daily chore for those daring enough to risk the creative life.