Russell Hoban Biography

Russell Conwell Hoban (February 4, 1925 – December 13, 2011) was an American expatriate writer of fantasy, science fiction, mainstream fiction, magic realism, poetry, and children's books. He lived in London, England, from 1969 until his death.

Hoban was born in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, to Jewish immigrants from Ostrog (now in Ukraine). His father, Abram T. Hoban, was the advertising manager of the Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish-language newspaper and the director of The Drama Guild of the Labor Institute of the Workmen's Circle of Philadelphia. He died when his son was 11, and Russell was raised by his mother, Jeanette Dimmerman. He was named for Russell Conwell. After briefly attending Temple University, he enlisted in the Army at age 18 and served in the Philippines and Italy as a radio operator during World War II, earning a bronze star.[3] During his military service, he married his first wife, Lillian Aberman, who later became a writer and illustrator in her own right. They had four children before divorcing in 1975.

After military service Hoban worked as an illustrator (painting several covers for TIME, Sports Illustrated, and The Saturday Evening Post) and an advertising copywriter—occupations which several of his characters later shared—before writing and illustrating his first children's book, What Does It Do and How Does It Work?: Power shovel, dump truck, and other heavy machines, published by Harper in 1959.

"About the Artist" in the Macmillan Classics Edition of Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (second printing 1965), which Hoban illustrated, notes that he worked in advertising for Batten Barton Durstine & Osborn and that later he became the art director of J. Walter Thompson: "Heavy machinery later became subjects for his paintings, and this led him into the children's book field with the writing and illustrating of What Does It Do and How Does It Work? and The Atomic Submarine." That section on the artist points out also that at the time the book's illustrations were copyrighted, in 1964, Hoban was teaching drawing at the School of Visual Arts, in New York, collaborating with his first wife on their fifth children's book, and living in Connecticut.

Garth Williams depicted Frances as a badger in the first book, Bedtime for Frances (Harper, 1960), and Lillian Hoban retained that image as the illustrator of six sequels, 1964 to 1972.

The US national library reports holding about three dozen books written by Hoban and published from 1959 to 1972, including about two dozen illustrated by Lillian Hoban. One was illustrated by their son Brom Hoban: The Sea-thing Child.

A dark philosophical tale for older children, The Mouse and His Child, appeared in 1967 and was Hoban's first full-length novel. It was later made into an animated film in 1977 by the American arm of Japanese company Sanrio.

In 1969, Hoban, his wife, and their children travelled to London, intending to stay only a short time. The marriage dissolved, and while the rest of the family returned to the United States, Hoban remained in London for the rest of his life. All of Hoban's adult novels except Riddley Walker, Pilgermann and Fremder are set wholly or partly in contemporary London.

In 1971, Hoban wrote a book employing concepts borrowed from "The Gift of the Magi" called Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, which further reached fans through a 1977 special originally created for HBO by the Jim Henson Company. The book was illustrated by Hoban's first wife, Lillian, whose drawn renditions of these characters were faithfully replicated by the Muppet creators. The story tells of a poor mother and son who do what they must to try to provide a special Christmas to one another, taking a route neither of them expected. His novel Turtle Diary (1975) was turned into a film version released in 1985, which has a screenplay by Harold Pinter.