Remembering Joan Walsh Anglund

Joan Walsh Anglund — a poet and children’s author who sold over 50 million books worldwide, and was a longtime Westport resident — died this month, surrounded by 3 generations of family. She was 95.

Three years ago, Tim Jackson — like Anglund’s daughter Joy a 1967 Staples High School graduate — made a documentary film about her.

The other day, he posted this remembrance on the Arts Fuse blog:

Joan Walsh Anglund’s words and delicate pen and ink illustrations of dot-eyed waifs were the source of poetic observations on love, nature, family, friendship, and faith for children and adults around the world for 60 years.

Joan Walsh Anglund (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Her gentle drawings were filled with small details. She often wove the names of children of friends and family into the leaves and branches of trees. Beyond children, she had legions of admirers, from Queen Elizabeth to Midwest housewives.

Beyond her artistic achievements, Joan possessed an inner light that inspired all who met her. I knew her and the family for 60 years and, in 2015, produced a documentary of her life called Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem.

Joan learned her craft from her artist parents, Her grandmother instilled a passion for language.

Joan’s love of drawing and poetic language, of spirituality and family remained central to her life and an inspiration for her art. Prior to the success of her own books she had been a literary illustrator, most memorably for The Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer.

For more than 50 years she was married to producer and actor Bob Anglund, who passed away in 2009. They met when Joan was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago and he was a student at the Goodman Theater….

They had a radio show together in Los Angeles in 1948. In 1959, after moving to Connecticut, unbeknownst to her, Bob brought the manuscript for her first book to Harcourt, Brace, and World. She later read in the newspapers that the book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, had sold over one million copies. Her career was born.

When her children were young, they scrambled about under her father’s original drawing board as she worked on illustrations, just as she had done with her father. Her 120 books went on to sell 50 million copies around the world in multiple languages. With the books came an array of figurines, calendars, dolls, and Joan Walsh Anglund accessories. She and her husband had numerous friendships in the theater and literary world but she remained humbled and amazed by her success, maintaining a quiet and private life….

Joan Walsh Anglund and her husband Bob. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

In the film she confides: “I realize I can’t stay here forever but I feel that I can. I don’t have any sense of being old and sensible. Because every day the world is so new to me.” She spent 60 idyllic summers with the extended family at her small beach house on Nantucket. Days before she passed she said to her daughter Joy: “I’m going into the deep, deep waves. I’m going to a homecoming.”

She was pre-deceased by her husband Bob and son Todd. She is survived by her daughter Joy Anglund and husband Seth Harvey; grandson Thaddeus Harvey, granddaughter Emily Anglund-Nellen and her husband, Gregory Martin, and their twin daughters, Rose and Elizabeth.

The family requests any donations be made in the form of a children’s book to The Jonestown Family Center. PO Box 248, 401 Main Street, Jonestown, MS 38369.

(Click here for the full Arts Fuse link.)

Joan Walsh Anglund and Tim Jackson. 

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In 2016, I posted this tribute for her 90th birthday:

The poet/author/illustrator — who spent many years in Westport, and raised her children here — wrote over 120 children’s and inspirational books. They’ve sold more than 50 million copies, and been translated into 17 languages.

Among her most famous quotes:

  • Do not be sad that you have suffered. Be glad that you have lived.
  • Life is in the living. Love is in the giving.
  • Where is the yesterday that worried us so

Joan Walsh Anglund, on Nantucket. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Wikipedia says that last year, a US Postal Service stamp commemorating Maya Angelou contained Anglund’s quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — seemingly tying it to Angelou.

That’s not the first time. President Obama wrongly attributed the sentence to Angelou when he presented the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to her.

“I hope it’s successful,” Anglund said of the stamp when it was issued.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Staples High School principal James Calkins — who spoke often of the importance of love — frequently quoted Anglund to the student body.

“Do You Love Someone?” — one of Joan Walsh Anglund’s many illustrated books.

When Calkins left Staples, Anglund’s daughter — a student there — thanked him using her mother’s words: “I did not hear the words you said. Instead, I heard the love.”

website dedicated to Anglund lists a few of her famous fans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Cary Grant, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Carol Burnett, Helen Hayes, Phyllis Diller, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, the Emperor of Japan and Elizabeth Taylor.

And, it adds helpfully, “etc.”

“06880”  joins Joan Walsh Anglund’s many admirers — in Westport, and the world — in saying: “Happy 90th birthday!”

Or, to quote herself: “A (person’s) health can be judged by which he takes two at a time: pills or stairs.”

6 responses to “Remembering Joan Walsh Anglund

  1. Vanessa Bradford

    As a child growing up in Westport I always would go to her book signings at The Remarkable Book Store. She would personalize your book and often draw a picture next to her message. I still have those books. Her books were often a favorite purchase for friends birthdays.

  2. She was a frequent customer in my last shop. One of many “local” artists that would frequent our shop looking for items for inspiration or to be incorporated into a piece of their work. A sparklingly, delightful person. She always lit up the room when she entered.

  3. I was best friends with her son Todd for years. Joan used to give me a ride to school most days when we were at Staples High School. She was always so kind and generous. When we had 3 little girls from Ireland visit us, Joan autographed a bunch of books for me to give them. They were thrilled!
    It broke my heart when Robert told me Todd had passed away, we had lost touch over the years. The last time I saw Todd was at his gallery opening reception at the Park Lane Gallery in NYC back in 1981. He was so excited to be able to show his amazing artwork to the world.
    I am sending my condolences to Joy and her family. Joan will never be forgotten, her stories and art will live on for future generations to love.
    I will treasure all my letters, cards and gifts from Todd and Joan forever.

  4. Oh so sad to read this post. Every Christmas, in the 60s, we would wait on line in Remarkable to get our new books signed by Joan Walsh Anglund. We had her dolls too which we passed on to our daughters. What memories. She is on to new adventures now. God speed to Joan Walsh Anglund.

  5. Linds Pomerantz Novis

    Truly an amazing life..

    My mom Jane Pomerantz,librarian,Weston elementary school,1970’s).my sister,Nora,and I
    Loved reading her books, loved the illustrations in them.

    What a treasure to grow up with her books in Westport,back then!

  6. Margaret Rynshall

    She lived kind of down the street from me on Kings Highway South. I always loved how at Christmas, she spelled “NOEL” in lights on her four front windows. I borrowed the idea many years ago and now my neighbors and friends all know my house as the “NOEL” house. It was my tribute to her.

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