August 3, 2011—William Sleator, the author of more than thirty books for young adults and children, died on August 2, 2011, in Thailand. He was sixty-six years old. Born William Warner Sleator III on February 13, 1945, in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and raised just outside St. Louis, Missouri, he earned wide acclaim for intelligent, thought-provoking, and often disturbing science fiction novels in which young characters are pitted against the diabolical, baffling, or grotesque.
His first book, The Angry Moon, a picture book retelling of a Tlingit Indian legend, was illustrated by his friend Blair Lent. It won a 1971 Caldecott Honor, but Sleator would find even greater acclaim with the publication of his novel House of Stairs (1974), edited by Ann Durrell, who would become his longtime editor. House of Stairs is widely considered a masterpiece of science fiction and was named one of the 100 Best Books for Teens by the American Library Association. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels, including Interstellar Pig (1984) and Singularity (1985), his own favorite of his books. In 1993, in a departure from his science fiction writing, he published a popular and hilarious collection of autobiographical stories, Oddballs, in which he detailed life growing up outside St. Louis in a family of brilliant eccentrics who shunned conventionality and encouraged curiosity and wild experiments and pranks. The only nonscientist in his family, Sleator turned to the arts, playing the piano and writing from a young age. Early efforts such as “Guillotines in the Springtime” and “The Haunted Easter Egg” delighted his family. After graduating from Harvard University, he worked as an accompanist, eventually for the Boston Ballet. But the success of his books allowed him to quit and write full time.
Sleator died in his beloved Thailand. He explored his fascination with Thai culture, and its embrace of the beautiful and the grotesque, in The Spirit House and other novels published by Dutton Children’s Books. He followed editor Susan Van Metre to Abrams in 2002, and published The Boy Who Couldn’t Die as the lead title on the Amulet Books launch list in 2004. His final book, The Phantom Limb, will be published by Amulet Books in October. He is survived by his father and two brothers.
Praise for the work of William Sleator:
“Sleator is the master of the creepy-crawly.” —The Horn Book
“This is an author who knows exactly what adolescents care about. . . . His genius is in taking vague science-fiction whimsy and using imagery to word-paint it into a stunning virtual reality. Nobody does it better!” —School Library Journal