Harriet The Spy Turns 50

I was thrilled when Random House asked me to contribute to the 50th anniversary edition of Harriet the Spy

Harriet M. Welsch is a girl who says what she wants (in her spy book) and defies all the dictums of her time.  She wears black, high topped sneakers and speaks the truth. I first encountered the book while applying for a job at Harper Junior Books, the division that under Ursula Nordstrom‘s wise editorial direction, had the sense to publish this first novel by Louise Fitzhugh.  Re-reading it more than forty years later, Harriet still speaks to me the way she did to so many writers, be they spies or novelists or as is true in most cases, both. The lessons I learned from Harriet when I first met her on the page still hold true for me today.

Readers don’t have to live the exact life that Harriet does in order to understand what her story is telling us. Writers will recognize themselves just as easily when they read Harriet’s story today as they did fifty years ago when the book was first published. Even though readers today may be recording their findings on an electronic tablet or publishing their observations on social media sites, the hard truths that Harriet learns as she goes from a spy taking notes to a writer writing stories remain the same.

If you want to be a writer, write down everything. Find out all you can, because life is hard enough even if you know a lot. Put down the truth in your notebooks, but don’t use it against your friends.

And as Ole Golly tells Harriet, gone is gone. Don’t try to hold on to people or lie down in your memories. Make stories from them.

Happy Anniversary, Harriet.  May just as many readers be clinging to your hard won truths in 2064.

 

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  1. Sitting here in Afghanistan scrolling now I need to add “Harriot the Spy” to my things to do list later this month. Thanks.

  2. Here! Here!
    Thank you, dear Elizabeth.
    And Long Live Harriet!
    She–and a series of black and white notebooks–were my best friends during a stunningly heinous 7th grade year. Thanks to Harriet, the year was also the first time I proudly identified myself as “WRITER”.