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W.H. Armstrong

Full name: W.H. Armstrong

Real name: William H. Armstrong

Years: 1911-09-14 / 1999-04-11 

Famous books: Sounder

Genres: Fiction


Short info:

William H. Armstrong, a teacher and writer best known for his 1969 children's novel ''Sounder,'' died on April 11 at his home in Kent, Conn. He was 87.

Set among a community of black sharecroppers, ''Sounder'' told the story of a loyal dog, his ill-fated master and the boy who loved them both. The book, Mr. Armstrong's first novel, was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1970 and was made into a movie starring Cicely Tyson in 1972.

Born in Collierstown, Va., Mr. Armstrong graduated from Hampden-Sydney College and later attended the University of Virginia. He wove the stories of his childhood in the Shenandoah Valley into ''Sounder'' and three other novels, ''Sour Land,'' ''The MacLeod Place'' and ''The Mills of God.'' The unnamed boy in ''Sounder'' and later, the teacher Moses Waters in ''Sour Land,'' grew from the tales Mr. Armstrong heard as a boy from Charles Jones, a schoolteacher who worked afternoons and summers for Mr. Armstrong's father.

Epic in form, ''Sounder'' had neither place nor family names. ''With names they would represent one family,'' Mr. Armstrong wrote. ''Without names they become universal -- representing all people who suffer privation and injustice, but through love, self-respect, devotion and desire for improvement, make it in the world.''

Despite the success of his books, Mr. Armstrong identified himself primarily as a teacher. He spent 52 years at the Kent School in Connecticut, where he taught general studies and ancient history to ninth graders. He wrote about his educational philosophy in several books, including ''Study Is Hard Work,'' ''Study Tips'' and ''87 Ways to Help Your Child in School.''

Mr. Armstrong lived in Connecticut in a farmhouse he had built for his wife, Martha, on a hill above the Housatonic River. Her sudden death in 1953, three months after she moved into the house, was the subject of his 1957 nonfiction work, ''Through Troubled Waters.''



William H. Armstrong (September 14, 1911 near Lexington, Virginia - April 11, 1999 in Kent, Connecticut) was an American children's author and educator, best known for his 1969 Newbery Medal-winning novel, Sounder.

After growing up on a farm near Lexington, Virginia, he graduated cum laude from Hampden-Sydney College in 1936, then continued his higher education with graduate work at the University of Virginia. In 1945, he became a history master at Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, where he remained for fifty-two years, teaching general studies and ancient history to generations of third formers (ninth graders).

Armstrong was loved, admired, and feared by his students. A truly formidable character and head of "study hall", he suffered no fools lightly. More than once he was known to send a text book flying across the classroom with unerring accuracy to awaken one inattentive student or another.

In 1956, at the request of his school headmaster, he published his first book, a study guide called Study Is Hard Work. Armstrong followed this title with numerous other self-help books, and in 1963 he was rewarded the National School Bell Award of the National Association of School Administrators for distinguished service in the interpretation of education.

In 1969, Armstrong published his masterpiece, a short novel entitled Sounder. about the African-American Morgan sharecropper family in Depression era Louisiana. Praised by critics, Sounder won the John Newbery Medal and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1970, and was adapted into a major motion picture in 1972 starring Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson. Despite its success, it was criticized by some African-Americans because they claimed that a white writer couldn't really understand their experience.

Among his other novels are The Sour Land which is a sequel to Sounder, though not labled as such, The Mills of God and The MacLeod Place, the story of a multi-generational family farm displaced by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

By the mid 1970s, enriched by earnings from Sounder, among other works, Armstrong was thoroughly ensconced in Kent School. He raised sheep for passover on a beautiful hillside piece of property provided by the school and reportedly only charged Kent one dollar per year for his academic services.

He continued to be prolific in his writing output, mainly publishing books with historical or biblical main characters, such as Hadassah: Esther the Orphan Queen (1972) and The Education of Abraham Lincoln (1974).

Armstrong was rewarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Hampden-Sydney College in 1986.

He died in 1999 at his home in Kent, Connecticut at the age of 87[1].

His Newbery Medal currently resides in the William Armstrong children's book section at Bortz Library at Armstrong's alma mater Hampden-Sydney College.

Books by W.H. Armstrong: