Gregory Maguire, AG90
By Kristin Livingston, A05
Behind the Concord, Mass., home of Gregory Maguire, AG90, you can see another small house: a sweet pea-colored miniature cottage, set at the end of the long green backyard.
“You almost expect Godfather Drosselmeyer to come out at any moment,” Maguire says, referring to the magician-like character in the Nutcracker ballet. The author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and more than 20 other fantasy novels for adults and children had the cottage built as a writing studio. But his habit of writing while doing other activities—laundry, dishes, being a father to his three teenage children—doesn’t work when he’s that far from the main house.
“And so it sits as a bit of a financial farce,” Maguire says with a grin.
The writing cottage is just one example of Maguire’s sense of whimsy. A similar playfulness coats the larger political and social themes in his work, and has had anything but a farcical effect on the literary and theater worlds. Through the lens of fantasy, Wicked has tackled the question: what does it truly mean to be “evil”? Maguire’s pursuit of that answer via his version of Oz has resonated with millions of fans, launching the story from book to Broadway and, soon, to the big screen.
“If we have a scrap of humanity in us, then we are related to everyone. We are related even to people who are green,” he says of Elphaba, Wicked’s marginalized main character. “We all of us feel that we grow up on the margins. And in some ways, we all do.”
Below, a conversation with Maguire about the origins of Wicked, a vision of Hitler in print, always tuning in to the Christian fundamentalists, and learning to pull your head out of the paper bag to take a much-deserved bow—plus, some bites of trivia left on the cutting room floor.
What inspired you to write Wicked?
On the difference between writing for children and adults, he says, “I write for people who like to read Gregory Maguire books. They can figure out for themselves what age they are!”
What was it like to watch your story transform into a musical?
Trivia: Maguire almost died in a sledding accident when he was a boy. His head hit the concrete and he was put in an induced coma while he underwent and recovered from brain surgery.
Elphaba is a character who is misunderstood. How do you relate?
At Tufts, Maguire’s doctoral dissertation explored children’s fantasy fiction in the 20th century. “The question of might versus right is really a serious adult question, as well as an adolescent question,” he says of his favorite children’s writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and T.H. White, and their respective works The Hobbit and The Sword in the Stone. “On the basis of those two writers, I saw that I could use fantasy—which is often regarded as a dipsy kind of diversion—as, actually, a way to talk about the most important things that have to do with the politics and society of today.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers and artists in general?
Maguire’s latest book for children is Egg & Spoon. “It’s about a witch in 1907 Russia,” he says, “but it’s really about global warming and income inequity and what the coming food shortages are going to do to the way we live our lives.” His next adult novel, After Alice, is based on Alice in Wonderland and will come out in 2015.
Maguire is also interested in scriptwriting and playwriting, but says he won’t pursue either until an idea “that is exactly the right shape and color is ready to come out of the shadows of my subconscious and says, ‘Here I am! Let me introduce myself to you. You and I are doing to be working together for a long time.’”