Susan Cooper has lived in the United States since 1963, she considers herself, and is considered by her readers, to be a British writer of fantasy. All of her major fiction resonates with themes, settings, myths, and legends associated with Great Britain, especially her native Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, and Wales. She found it ironic that the American Library Association awarded her its highest honor for a children's book author, the John Newbery Medal, in 1976, its centennial year, for The Grey King (1975), the fourth book of her Dark Is Rising fantasy sequence. That series of five books, each an award winner, integrates the traditional lore of the British Isles with modern concerns. Her work, although commercially designated for a younger audience, exemplifies sophisticated mythopoeic writing not limited to that age group and is one of the major contributions to Arthurian fantasy of the 1970s.
Susan Mary Cooper, the daughter of John Richard and Ethel May (née Field) Cooper, was born in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England, on 23 May 1935. Her father worked in the Great Western Railway offices and was an amateur pianist; her mother was a teacher. She has one younger brother, Rod, also a writer. Her childhood experiences of World War II as well as her yearly visits to Wales inform much of her major fiction. She attended Somerville College at Oxford and was the first woman to edit the university newspaper. After earning her M.A. in 1956, she subsequently entered a seven-year period as a journalist in London for the Sunday Times. In a 1976 author-information brochure published by Atheneum, Cooper admits that this work was deeply satisfying; she also compares it, in its effect on a young novelist, to Circe's island--"seductive, but death if you stay too long." Cooper came to the United States in 1963 when she married an American professor, Nicholas Grant; they lived in Massachusetts and had two children, Jonathan (born in 1966) and Katharine (born in 1967). One of her nonfiction works, Behind the Golden Curtain: A View of the U.S.A. (1965), is a result of her new experiences as well as her journalistic career. Cooper and Grant divorced in 1983; she married the actor Hume Cronyn in 1996 and lives in Connecticut.
Cooper's first novel was a work of science fiction, (1964), the story of a politician who unsuccessfully tries to rid the world of much of the human race with the help of "natural forces." It made no critical impression, and Cooper did not attempt further work in this genre, although a later novel, The Boggart (1993), employs elements of the youth subculture of computers.
Cooper is an advocate of fantasy for its capacity to provide social and ethical grounding in a world in which the impact of myth has been vitiated over time; this view is analogous to J. R. R. Tolkien 's concept of "Recovery," one of the four functions of fantasy. Cooper's major fantasy deals with radically polarized forces in conflict, and such fantasy...