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How I Learned to Tesser Well

Madeleine would have been 104 today [November 29th, 2022], and she loved celebrating her birthday! I can’t think of a better birthday gift than to share stories with others about the profound influence A Wrinkle in Time had on my life. From the first time I met Madeleine at the restaurant high atop the World Trade Center in 1979 to the last time I saw her shortly before she died in 2007, we carried on a 25-year long conversation about her beloved book. My hope is that my memoir, Becoming a Warrior: My Journey to Bring A Wrinkle in Time to the Screen, will inspire others to do as Madeleine did and taught me to do — light candles in the darkness.

The first time I saw her in March 1979 she was standing near the elevator in the lobby of the North Tower at the World Trade Center in New York City. She was taller than I expected and wore flowing layers of colorful clothing. As we headed up to the restaurant Windows on the World, I practically had an out-of-body experience being in the same elevator with her. It was the first time I had ever met with anyone about a possible film option for anything, and I wanted so desperately to succeed in getting her to trust me as the champion for the film. In truth, not just me but Norman Lear as well, one of the most successful producers in Hollywood at the time—and my boss.

The restaurant had a marvelous view of the Manhattan skyline, but it was so high up! As the maître d’ led us to a table next to a window I asked if we could sit a few feet away since I have a fear of heights, which made Madeleine laugh. As we settled in, she leaned across the table and said with such certainty, “You know, there really is such a thing as a tesseract.” I didn’t know what to say. She sounded so much like Mrs Whatsit, one of the three otherworldly spirits that guide the central characters on their cosmic journey. I never considered that a tesseract—a way to travel in the fifth dimension—existed. It took me four decades to learn that it does, although not in the way I originally thought she meant.

Of all the conversations we had, one of the most moving took place the day we sat in her workplace at her home in Connecticut, The Tower. She spoke of the rejections she endured trying to get A Wrinkle in Time published. As she paced about the small room her voice became intense, angry, and vulnerable all at once. “Twenty-six times I heard the word no. I wanted to give up and thought I’d never write again. Then I realized I had to write and I took the cover off the typewriter and started a new book.”

As I watched her, it hit me hard that this woman who had known such success also knew such self-doubt and despair. I swore to myself in that moment that if she could endure that kind of rejection to get the book published, I could do the same to get the movie made. No one knew better than she how difficult it was going to be.

The great byproduct of my effort was that in convincing others about the merit of the film adaptation I internalized all that the book offers to people at different times in their lives: the joy I felt as a young girl when I first read the book; the inspiration I experienced when I was introduced to the story through Madeleine’s eyes; and the courage I found to face down the grief of my husband’s death.

Madeleine gave me an autographed copy of A Wrinkle in Time and signed it with “Tesser well and may you land gloriously on Uriel.” I wondered at the time what did she mean by “tesser well?” I have come to understand that tesser well is an encouragement to get in the arena—and learn how to become a warrior against the darkness. Learning from Madeleine that love isn’t what you feel it’s what you do is how I became a warrior.

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