Noted Sandburg Biographer Dies

(Penelope Niven speaks in April at the Sandburg Days Festival.  Courtesy Sandburg Days Festival Facebook page.)
(Penelope Niven speaks in April at the Sandburg Days Festival. Courtesy Sandburg Days Festival Facebook page.)

A woman with a nearly direct tie to Galesburg, but known more for writing about Galesburg’s most famous native son, has died.

The Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina says Penelope Niven died last Thursday at the age of 75. She reportedly had driven herself to the hospital last Wednesday, then went into a coma.

Niven wrote a number of biographies over the years, but may be best known for writing “Carl Sandburg: A Biography” in 1991, as well as a biography of Sandburg for children.

Niven was last in Galesburg in April for the Sandburg Days festival and the unveiling of a Carl Sandburg statue. Niven told the WGIL Evening News then she loved the statue.

“It’s difficult for me to look at it, without wanting to weep tears of joy,” Niven said.  “It is so beautiful, and it so captures the essence of Sandburg.  I think it’s an extraordinary piece of work.  I was so impressed over the past years to see the depth and extent of Lonnie’s research.”

Niven refers to Lonnie Stewart, the man tasked to build the statue. Niven says she feels the Sandburg statue, from every angle, shows a different part of Sandburg’s personality — including, even, his love of goats.

Niven told the WGIL Evening News in April Sandburg’s home felt, in many ways, like her home, too.

“I fell in love with Galesburg, just like I fell in love with Connemara, the Sandburg home in North Carolina,” Niven said.  “Those are my two favorite places.  I love Galesburg for so many reasons.  First of all, Carl Sandburg’s presence here, and the wonderful peoplem the amazing things that go on here in support of Sandburg’s legacy — there’s nothing like it any other place.  I also have had such wonderful memories of Galesburg with Helga Sandburg.”  She’s Carl Sandburg’s youngest daughter, who died earlier this year. Niven says she and Helga Sandburg loved attending Sandburg Days.

Niven received two honorary doctorates, traveled the world lecturing and speaking, and said on her website among other things, she wants her epitath to read that she has  “taught, written, and lived with joy.”

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