Ruth Sawyer, a pre-eminent storyteller in the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Boston on August 5, 1880. She graduated from Columbia University with a BS degree in 1904, having studied folklore and storytelling, and began the first storytelling program at the New York Public Library.
When she was twenty, Ms. Sawyer spent time in Cuba, teaching teachers to tell stories to the kindergartens she helped them organize for children orphaned during the Spanish-American War two years earlier. She married Albert Durand, a doctor, and they had a daughter, Margaret, who grew up and married Robert McCloskey.
In 1937, Ruth Sawyer won the Newbery Medal for Roller Skates and in 1953 she and her son-in-law, Robert McCloskey, collaborated on the Newbery Honor book, Journey-Cake, Ho! In 1965, the ALA awarded Ms. Sawyer the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for her contribution to children’s literature.
Ms. Sawyer is held in high regard for her classic book, The Way of the Storyteller (Viking Penguin, 1977). First published in 1942, the book is a blend of literary history, criticism, analysis, personal anecdote, and how-to instructions.
In 1942, Ms. Sawyer traveled to the College of St. Catherine in Saint Paul, Minnesota to teach a course in storytelling. In 1957, the College named its rare children’s book collection the Ruth Sawyer Collection. This Collection has complete collections of Caldecott and Newbery prize winners, as well as folk literature of many nations. No less importantly, the Collection holds the writings, audio recordings, letters, and some manuscripts for Ruth Sawyer’s books and stories.
She died at her home in Maine on June 3, 1970, at the age of 89.