Hilary Knight, the storied illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise and its sequels, celebrated his 90th birthday on November 1, along with new book deals with two Macmillan imprints. Michael Flamini, executive editor of St. Martin’s Press, has bought world English rights to Hilary Knight: Drawn from Life, an illustrated memoir scheduled for spring 2018. Simultaneously, Jon Yaged, president of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, has acquired world English rights to Olive & Oliver: The Formative Years, a graphic novel about eccentric twins separated at birth. Written by Knight’s twin nieces, Kitty and Lily Knight, and illustrated by their uncle, this 2019 Roaring Brook title will be edited by senior v-p and publishing director Simon Boughton. Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates brokered both deals.
Hilary Knight’s memoir, which is aimed at adult readers, will trace his life from childhood through his years as an artist living in Manhattan and bringing Eloise to life, to the present day. The autobiography will be illustrated with photographs and new and existing art by Knight, including pieces he created for the theater and never-before-published images.
The book, Knight explained, has been long in the making. “I’ve been working on this for years, in fact,” he said. “It is a real history of my own life, of course, but it’s also the story of my parents, who were both highly accomplished artists. From my early years I was surrounded by art and artists – that’s all I saw – and I began drawing when I was very young. I remember thinking that creating art was the only thing that people did for a living!”
]His memoir’s title, Hilary Knight: Drawn from Life, has double appeal for Knight. “When we were trying to come up with a title, I’d originally called it A Family Tree, thinking of all the things in my life connecting, but that didn’t really work,” he said. “So I came up with the brilliant idea, Drawn from Life, and I checked the title on Amazon. The first thing that popped up was Ernest Shepard’s autobiography – and I was delighted! He was a tremendous influence on my own work, and on Eloise. So that became my title, too – with a great big bow to Ernest.”
Knight, who makes his graphic novel debut with Olive & Oliver, noted that the Candide-esque story “might look like a children’s book, but it’s not. It’s written for adults by my brother’s daughters, who are now grown women. They are identical twins, but they could not be more different. The novel is going to be based on reality – with some fantasy thrown in.”
Bowen, who has been Knight’s agent for six years and was previously his editor and publisher at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, believes that each of his new projects have found an ideal home at Macmillan. “Hilary’s initial idea was to do a scrapbook of his life,” she recalled. “He worked on a dummy, but felt that he couldn’t quite get the vision right. But when we brought it to Michael, he immediately saw all that the book could be, and was very excited at the idea of working with Hilary. He came up with just the right way to make the book artistically beautiful while delivering autobiographical material.”
And, Bowen adds, given the niche that Roaring Brook has carved in the graphic-novel market, Olive & Oliver was a perfect fit for that imprint, despite its billing as an adult book. “Jon and Simon recognized right away that this graphic novel is very much Roaring Brook’s bailiwick,” she said. “It’s a full-color graphic novel, which is the kind of book the imprint produces so beautifully.”
Steadfastly belying his 90 years, Knight continues to stage art exhibits in addition to creating new books. In February 2017, an exhibit of his book illustration, with a focus on the delightfully demanding Eloise, will open at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., and will then move to the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan in October. Also next fall, the New York Public Library's Lincoln Center branch will host an exhibit of Knight’s work, concentrating on his theatrical art.
“Hilary is going full steam ahead – he’s unstoppable,” said Bowen. “I think his art just gets better and better – even more refined and accomplished. He’s astonishing, really.” Clearly, Knight continues to be energized by his art, and by the exhibits showcasing it. “I’m thrilled about these exhibits – I really am,” he said. “In fact, they help keep me going!”