Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy

by Leslie Brody

Book list Much like the titular heroine in her beloved children’s book Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh developed a knack for hiding the truth. Throughout her life, Fitzhugh was often forced to cover up details about herself from the public at large, including the fact that she was openly gay. In the years after her death, friends and partners began to slowly come forward with more details about the author. Sometimes You Have to Lie captures those details and is the most thorough print biography on Fitzhugh available. In this compelling telling, Brody follows Fitzhugh’s life from the brief and tumultuous relationship between her parents to her exploration of her own sexuality, her colorful life in New York City, and her personal struggles. Readers will see Harriet’s cantankerous charm mirrored in Fitzhugh and, as they learn more about her remarkable life in this thoroughly researched and meticulously organized biography, will likely want to revisit her classic works.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Kirkus A scholarly biography of the creator of Harriet the Spy, the nosy scamp who brought “a new realism” to children’s fiction. Does Harriet the Spy have a “queer subtext”? Is its heroine a “quintessential baby butch” character? Or is Harriet simply “a nasty little girl who keeps a notebook on all her friends,” as Louise Fitzhugh (1928-1974) told the poet James Merrill, her former adviser at Bard College? While fairly representing these varied points of view, Brody, a creative writing instructor, mostly lets Fitzhugh’s life speak for itself. The author follows her subject from her birth in Memphis to her death from a brain aneurysm in New Milford, Connecticut. Raised by a rich father who won custody after a sensational divorce trial, Fitzhugh later moved in boho circles with Djuna Barnes, Lorraine Hansberry, and Anatole Broyard in Greenwich Village. She had her first lesbian romance as a teenager and, after decades of affairs with women, was “obviously out of the closet” in later life. Yet Fitzhugh had a long-term correspondence only with Merrill, and her estate, the book suggests, keeps a tight rein on other material. Perhaps partly for such reasons, Fitzhugh remains an elusive figure who emerges most clearly through the tensions in her relationships with three celebrated editors who kept their own records: Ursula Nordstrom, Charlotte Zolotow, and Michael di Capua. Di Capua once complained to Fitzhugh about the Black characters’ dialogue in her post-Harriet book Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change: “You don’t know how to write black people.” A longtime lover said that an upset Fitzhugh responded, “I know how I want my characters to sound, and what I want them to say.” Such anecdotes, which are too few, give valuable glimpses of the fierce tenacity Fitzhugh shared with her most famous character. A diligent but sometimes-hazy portrait of a beloved children’s author and illustrator. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list Much like the titular heroine in her beloved children’s book Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh developed a knack for hiding the truth. Throughout her life, Fitzhugh was often forced to cover up details about herself from the public at large, including the fact that she was openly gay. In the years after her death, friends and partners began to slowly come forward with more details about the author. Sometimes You Have to Lie captures those details and is the most thorough print biography on Fitzhugh available. In this compelling telling, Brody follows Fitzhugh’s life from the brief and tumultuous relationship between her parents to her exploration of her own sexuality, her colorful life in New York City, and her personal struggles. Readers will see Harriet’s cantankerous charm mirrored in Fitzhugh and, as they learn more about her remarkable life in this thoroughly researched and meticulously organized biography, will likely want to revisit her classic works.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Biographer/playwright Brody, who adapted Harriet the Spy for the stage, portrays the determinedly lesbian/radical life led by Harriet's creator, Louise Fitzhugh, taking her from segregated 1920s Memphis to heady Greenwich Village to postwar Europe. With a 25,000-copy first printing.

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