Paula Fox (April 22, 1923 – March 1, 2017) was an American author of novels for adults and children and of two memoirs. For her contributions as a children's writer she won the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1978, the highest international recognition for a creator of children's books. She also won several awards for particular children's books including the 1974 Newbery Medal for her novel The Slave Dancer; a 1983 National Book Award in category Children's Fiction (paperback) for A Place Apart; and the 2008 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for A Portrait of Ivan (1969) in its German-language edition Ein Bild von Ivan.
In 2011, she was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. The NYSW Hall of Fame is a project of the Empire State Center for the Book. Her adult novels went out of print in 1992. In the mid nineties she enjoyed a revival as her adult fiction was championed by a new generation of American writers.
Paula Fox was born in New York City on April 22, 1923. Her mother, Elsie De Sola, was Cuban and a screenwriter. Her father, Paul Hervey Fox, wrote screenplays and taught English. After he divorced Elsie, he had 3 sons and a daughter with his second wife, Mary.
Elsie De Sola Fox rejected her daughter Paula at birth and left her in a foundling home. Her maternal grandmother, Candelaria de Sola, temporarily visiting New York City, rescued her and she was moved around Florida, Cuba and the US. Unable at the time to provide a home herself, Candelaria gave the infant to Reverend Elwood Corning and his bedridden mother in Balmville, New York.
Rev. Corning treated Paula kindly and taught her important lessons. When she first visited her parents at age five, her mother treated her like a prisoner of war. As she wrote in her memoir Borrowed Finery, the reunion was so traumatic that "I sensed that if she could have hidden the act she would have killed me."
In 1944, Paula was living in the household of famed acting coach Stella Adler and became friendly with another of Adler's students who was living there. She became pregnant and reportedly gave the child up for adoption. This daughter, Linda Carroll, became an author and psychotherapist and gave birth to musician Courtney Love. Visual artist Frances Bean Cobain is Fox's great-granddaughter.
Fox attended Columbia University and married Richard Sigerson, by whom she had 2 sons. She later married literary critic and translator Martin Greenberg, and worked for years as a teacher and tutor for troubled children. Only in her 40s did she begin her first novel, Poor George, about a cynical schoolteacher who finds purpose—and ruin—in mentoring a vagrant teenager. The novel was received well (Bernard Bergonzi in the New York Review of Books calling it "the best novel I've read in a long time") but sold poorly, a pattern that all her adult novels would follow. Desperate Characters, an acknowledged masterpiece, came next with Alfred Kazin calling it a "brilliant performance" and "quite devastating" while Lionel Trilling described it as "a reserved and beautifully realized novel". By 1992 all six of her novels were out of print.
In 2011 she was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. The Writers Hall of Fame is a project of the Empire State Center for the Book. She was championed by the author Jonathan Franzen, who saw that some of her books were re-issued.
Fox died at age 93 in Brooklyn on March 1, 2017.