ALAN v21n3 - The Semicentennial of Seventeenth Summer: Some Questions and Answers

Volume 21, Number 3
Spring 1994

The Semi-centennial of Seventeenth Summer : Some Questions and Answers

Nancy Vogel

Having won a short story contest in high school with "Sixteen," Maureen Daly boldly announced to her family, after her freshman year at Rosary College, that she was going to write a novel. The coal bin in the basement of their home close to Lake Winnebago became her office where she started writing Seventeenth Summer . Submitting her manuscript to Dodd, Mead and Company in the firm's first contest for an intercollegiate literary fellowship, Maureen won first prize. Seventeenth Summer appeared in print in 1942. The modern period of young adult literature is often said to have begun with Seventeenth Summer .

Does Maureen Daly value reading?

She reads and reads. Going to the library several times a week as a girl, Maureen thought books were "wealthy things." In high school she read Wuthering Heights , Jane Eyre , and the bestsellers of the day, including books by Edna Ferber and Sinclair Lewis. She likes Bobbie Ann Mason ( In Country , Harper and Row, 1985). She considers "Ruth's Song (Because She Could Not Sing It)" by Gloria Steinem "magnificent" ( MS. , September,1983). During the period before his death, Maureen and her husband reread the works of Willa Cather.

Where does the author live?

Today Maureen Daly lives in Palm Desert, California, where she writes a column for The Desert Sun as a restaurant critic. She also writes novels, the latest being First a Dream (Scholastic, 1990). Marriage and career took her to homes in France, Italy, Ireland, England, and Spain; returning to the United States, the McGiverns lived on a farm in Pennsylvania. When highway development led to condemnation of the acreage, the family moved to California.

When was she born?

She was born on March 15, 1921, in Ireland. Her father, Joseph Daly, emigrated to America, choosing Wisconsin because the green country resembled his homeland. Later her mother followed, bringing Maureen and her two sisters. A third sister was born here.

Are the Morrow sisters in Seventeenth Summer modeled after the Daly sisters?

Yes. Angeline ("Angie") Morrow, the protagonist, is actually Maureen. Angeline is named for a nun in the Order of St. Agnes at the St. Mary's Springs Academy, the school that Maureen attended in Fond du Lac. Margaret Morrow is modeled after Marguerite ("Maggie") Daly, and Kathleen ("Kay") Daly served as the prototype for Lorraine Morrow. Kitty, the baby of the family, is Shelia Daly, the one sister born in America. Kay became an executive with Revlon; Sheila, with Chanel. Maggie wrote for the Chicago Tribune . The foursome can be seen in "Career Sisters" in Life (November 7, 1949) and in the sequel,"They All Made Good" ( Life , May 11, 1959).

Does she have her own family?

In 1946 Maureen married William P. McGivern, whom she had first met at an autograph party where he bought a copy of Seventeenth Summer . They were married in Chicago at Holy Name Cathedral. A mystery writer, Bill died in 1982 after a lengthy bout with cancer. Writers and world travelers, the McGiverns had two children, Megan and Patrick, now an elementary schoolteacher. No sooner had Maureen finished the writing of Bill's last book ( A Matter of Honor ) than Megan telephoned to say that she had discovered a lump. On New Year's Eve, 1983, Megan died. Her husband and two sons, Antonio and Nicholas, survive.

How did the death of her husband and daughter influence Maureen Daly as a writer?

It devastated her for a time. After Megan's death, Maureen tried writing something along the lines of "Ruth's Song," but that effort became too depressing. Then while whale-watching with friends off Baja California, she found herself sharing a mystical moment with a whale intent on showing off her baby, which tumbled about in the water "like a toddler in snow clothes."Returning to her home, Maureen found herself inspired by that bond of sympathy with the mother whale, and she began writing about her love for own daughter at a very important time in Megan's life, i.e., her seventeenth summer. That story can be found in Acts of Love (Scholastic, 1986).

How does she write and how does she promote books?

She writes mornings, breaks for lunch at her dining room table, then returns to her typewriter, sometimes writing late into the afternoon. A Dundee marmalade jar (ginger flavor) holds her pencils. Many girls, she has said, remember their first kiss; she remembers her first librarian. In honor of Megan, Maureen has endowed a library at the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center, part of the Eisenhower Medical Complex in Rancho Mirage: "I have a feeling there is great consolation in books, and a lot of children sleep with books."Her dream is for the young people to take home books that somewhere have a small yellow circle bearing the words "Megan loves you." As she said at the National Council of Teachers of English in Los Angeles in 1987, "While I help myself, I shall help them."

Nancy Vogel teaches at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. She attended the ALAN breakfast at NCTE in Los Angeles in 1987 where Maureen Daly spoke. After the address, she invited Daly to keynote the Fall English Workshop at Fort Hays State University in 1989. Her article, "The Semi-centennial of Seventeenth Summer : Maureen Daly's Acts of Love," appeared in the Nebraska English Journal in spring of 1992.