During her childhood, Cynthia Voigt experienced little of the privation and trauma that characterizes the lives of the Tillerman children in Homecoming. Voigt grew up as the second child of six to parents well off enough to send her to an exclusive private school in Wellesley, Massachusetts near her family home in Boston. Voigt, according to Anne Commire, remembers her childhood as a happy one, marred only by competition with her older, more graceful sister. Though she began pursuing publication from the time she was in ninth grade, she did not persevere in her dream until many years later, as she labored under the illusion that if one publisher rejected a manuscript, it was not fit to be published. Voigt majored in English at Smith College, lived in New York City for a year, and then married and moved to New Mexico, where she gave birth to her daughter and began to teach. Voigt and her husband moved to Annapolis, Maryland, not long after, where Voigt taught in public and private schools and she and her husband divorced. Several years later, Voigt remarried and, while pregnant with her son, began to devote more time to her writing. She found inspiration in the engaging young adult literature she taught to her middle school students, and when she found her daughter raptly reading her first manuscript, she sensed she had something that worked. The publication of Homecoming and the award of the Newbery Medal to its sequel, Dicey's Song, ushered both success and fame into Voigt's life. While she enjoyed the thrill of success and the immortality the Newbery would give to her characters, little about her life and priorities actually changed as a result of the award. In an interview with theChristian Science Monitor, Voigt asserts that she does not necessarily see herself only or even primarily as a writer: she sees both her family and her teaching as playing at least as major a role in her life as writing.
Critics have questioned whether the intensity of Voigt's writing and subject matter makes her books appropriate for young readers. But Voigt, in her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, expresses esteem for literature that "engages the imagination, sets to work the intelligence, fills the spirit," and believes that young people are much tougher than most adults imagine. She wants her work to raise questions and challenge her readers to question conventions. In the same speech, Voigt expresses delight in the fact that not only does she learn from her characters and from the process of writing, but that her readers themselves, in their comments and discussions with her, teach her about her work. To Voigt, writing is a process through which she engages the world and her inner self in conversation and which results in her, like her characters, growing up and transforming.
According to Reid, the inspiration for Homecoming and the entire Tillerman series came to Voigt one afternoon when she saw a station wagon full of children waiting for their mother and found herself wondering what would happen to the children if their mother did not return. Voigt uses both her familiarity with the Northeast and her knowledge of sailing and the ocean as a basis for her detailed description of the Tillerman's perilous journey along the northeastern seaboard and tenuous homecoming on the Chesapeake Bay. According to Commire, the themes of reaching out, symbolized in song, holding on, symbolized in wood, and letting go, symbolized by the ocean and by sailing, guided Voigt as she crafted this story of a girl trying desperately to hold her family together through song, memory, love, and determination, while at the same time struggling to let go of past disappointments and her childhood self. Voigt views her characters as entities entirely independent of her, but admits that she sees an idealized picture of herself as an old woman in Gram, and an idealized picture of her childhood self in Dicey. Like Dicey, Voigt is tempted and soothed by the faceless, ever-changing and eternal call of the ocean, while remaining anchored by and rooted in the love of her family and her life upon land.
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