Whitney, Phyllis A. 1903-2008 (Phyllis Ayame Whitney)

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Whitney, Phyllis A. 1903-2008 (Phyllis Ayame Whitney)


See index for CA sketch: Born September 9, 1903, in Yokohama, Japan; died of pneumonia, February 8, 2008, in Charlottesville, VA. Book review editor, educator, and novelist. Whitney earned two Edgar Allan Poe Awards from the Mystery Writers of America in 1961 and was named a grand master of the organization in 1988. She earned a lifetime achievement award from the Romance Writers of America, and both a lifetime achievement award and the Agatha Award from the Malice Domestic fan convention, among many other prizes for her writing. With more than seventy novels to her credit, Whitney eluded easy classification. She wrote mysteries and thrillers that were more than mere detective stories; she wrote romance stories that were much more than romance or gothic novels, and she herself cringed at that description. Her books were usually suspenseful detective stories, full of twists and turns and women with mysteries in their past, and she never ran out of stories. Whitney was a novelist for all ages; about half of her books were intended for adults, but the other half were for young readers. These were also her earliest moneymakers and award-winners. Willow Hill was a popular young adult novel that dealt with the issue of race relations as early as 1947; and she won her first "Edgar" Award in 1961 for the children's book The Mystery of the Haunted Pool. Whitney was slow to move to adult fiction, at least partly because "women's fiction" did not pay as well in the early days as mainstream fiction or children's books, but after her novel Thunder Heights appeared in 1960 Whitney's popularity was ensured, and she published an average of ten adult novels per decade until 1997. Red Is for Murder was originally published in 1943; Amethyst Dreams appeared more than fifty years later when the author was nearly ninety-five years old. By then, her books had been published in more than thirty languages, and she had written dozens—perhaps hundreds—of short stories for magazines and newspapers. Whitney traveled around the world to find interesting settings for her stories. While she certainly wrote of the typical "damsel in distress," who often found herself in improbable situations, she also wrote about girls and women who know what they want and set out confidently to find it; this was especially true of her juvenile titles. Whitney spent her entire adult life as a writer. In the 1940s she also worked as a book review editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the former Chicago Sun. She later taught occasional writing classes at Northwestern University and New York University.



Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2008, p. B10.

New York Times, February 9, 2008, p. B9.

Times (London, England), March 3, 2008, p. 52.

Washington Post, February 15, 2008, p. B7.

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