As a child, Gregory Maguire read and was deeply influenced by the works of Madeleine L’Engle, Jane Langton, E. B. White, T. H. White, J. M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, and, most significant for Oz fans, L. Frank Baum.
Watching The Wizard of Oz on television growing up, Gregory found fleeting moments of escape from a difficult childhood. He had written and illustrated more than 100 stories by age 17, and went on to earn a doctorate in English and American literature from Tufts University, completing a thesis on children’s fantasy from 1933 to 1989. He pursued a career focused on children’s literature, first as a professor and co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, and later as co-founder of Children’s Literature New England.
Gregory, who once said, “I write in order to know what I think,” certainly seems to think a lot, having published more than two dozen books for both children and adults. His first adult novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), published after 10 preceding books written for children, was a meditation on the nature of evil. The year that novel was published, its author gave a reading in Chicago; seven people attended, and the writer briefly despaired. The book has since sold five million copies (as of 2014), spawned three sequels, and been adapted into a musical that has been Broadway’s highest-grossing production for the past nine years in a row. Eight million theatergoers have seen that musical on the Great White Way, and 14 million more in its national tour. Wicked, in its various incarnations, has become the single most significant vehicle for introducing Oz to the masses since the premiere of the classic MGM film three-quarters of a century ago.