Mickelbury, Penny 1948–

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Penny Mickelbury 1948

Novelist, dramatist

Began As Reporter

Wrote for the Theater

Penned Popular Mystery Novels

Selected Writings


After working for more than a decade in television journalism, writer Penny Mickelbury left reporting to pursue her first lovethe theater. In 2000 she saw two of her plays, Waiting for Gabriel and Hush Now, staged in Los Angeles, where she taught fiction and script writing at her private studio. Mickelbury is also the author of the mystery series featuring female African-American lawyer-turned-sleuth Carol Ann Gibson. The success of these, and other novels, has helped give Mickelbury the financial freedom to focus on writing for the theater.

The daughter of a painting contractor and a librarian, Mickelbury was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She was an avid reader and from an early age never wanted to be anything but a writer, she told Contemporary Black Biography.As a child, Mickelbury often accompanied her mother, a librarian to her workplace, Spelman College. There, Mickelbury discovered the allure of the theater while watching play rehearsals in the theater department. Theater is my first love, Mickelbury told CBB. After watching rehearsals, I knew I didnt want to be an actress. The director always yelled at the actors. And I didnt want to be the director, because he was always yelling at somebody. But all those people had something in their handsthe script. I really wanted to be a playwright, she continued.

Began As Reporter

Although she wrote stories as a child and aspired to be a playwright, Mickelbury first pursued a career in journalism. She opted to earn a sociology degree at the University of Georgia in Athens because she was interested in cultures and activities of peoples and believed an area of expertise would serve her well as a journalist. While still in college, she worked for the Atlanta Voice during several summers, and upon graudation she became the first African-American reporter at the Banner-Herald in Athens.

Over the course of her career as a journalist, Mickelbury worked in print, radio, and television. In 1971 she hired on as a reporter at the Washington Post, where she worked for a year before accepting the public relations directorship of the Washington-based National Caucus and Center on Black Aged. Three years later she took a reporting position with WHUR-FM radio in Washington, and in 1978 she began a decade-long television reporting career with WJLA-TV in Washington. Covering government and politics, Mickelbury thrived on the excitement of journalism. I got a chance to watch the government work. It was fascinating to me, she recalled for CBB. I loved every moment of it, she added. After fifteen years of working in journalism, however, Mickelbury became dissatisfied with reporting. She perceived changes in the profession that she did not like, for example, the sensationalism and emphasis put on public figures private lives. I wanted to be a reporter from my earliest days. When it became a media business, I didnt care for the profession anymore, she told CBB.

Wrote for the Theater

Though she later acknowledged her journalism work as a detour from her true interest in the theater, she found

At a Glance

Born May 31, 1948 in Atlanta, GA; daughter of Arthur Jennings (a painting contractor) and Mexico Mickelbury(a college librarian). Education: University of Georgia, BA. sociology, 1971.

Career: Worked for Atlanta Voice newspaper, 1968-69;Banner-Herald, reporter, 1970-71;Washington Post, reporter, 1971-72; National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, public relations director, 1972-75; WHUR-FM, news reporter, 1975-78; WJLA-TV (ABC), news reporter, 1978-84, assistant news director, 1984-87;. worked as a teacher at City Kids Repertory Company, 1988-89; Alchemy: Theatre of Change, co-founder and managing director, 1990-93; writing teacher, 1994-.

Awards: Won a Lambda Literary Award for Nightsongs; Where To Choose was on the runners-up list of Booklists Best Crime Novels, 1988-99.

Addresses: Office Forty-Eight Fifty-Two Development Studio, 1313 West 8th St., Suite 221, Los Angeles, CA 90017. Agent -Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, New York, NY 10012.

it useful for gaining experience and honing discipline. Mickelbury told CBB, As a reporter, you had to write fast, organize your thoughts quickly, and get it right the first time. After working as a teacher at the City Kids Repertory Company in New York City, Mickelbury founded and managed for three years the New York City-based Alchemy: Theatre of Change.

Mickelburys first performed play, Time Out, is a modern tragedy that dealt with life, love, lossand revenge. It takes place in the present-day home of Phyllis and Ray West, hard-working middle class parents of two pre-teens who are trying to live the American dream in a neighborhood filled with gangs, drugs, and crime. Waiting For Gabriel, first performed in 1991 and reprised in 2000, explored the lives of brothers and enemies Thaddeus and Zachary Gravely, and the woman they both loved and married, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Willis Gravely. The play takes place in New York and Atlanta in the forties and in Atlanta, thirty years later, depicting the principal characters first as young, energetic and impetuous, and later, as stable, solid representatives of the middle class, with deep-seated secrets left over from their youth. Hush Now, which was performed in Los Angeles in 2000, is a psychological drama Dased on a modern-day true story. In this work, Harriette Adams, a middle-aged black woman who has teetered on the edge of insanity during her entire life, comes undone.

Penned Popular Mystery Novels

Because she had long been an avid reader of mystery novels, such as those by Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner, and Chester Hines, Mickelbury decided to try her hand at writing mysteries featuring female African American sleuths. Her first mysteries, Keeping Secrets and Nightsongs, were published by Naiad Press, which bills itself as the oldest lesbian and feminist publishing house in the United States. These works featured Gianna Maglione, the lesbian chief of the Washington, D.C.-based hate crimes unit, and he: romantic interest and reporter, Mimi Patterson. According to Kathleen DeBold in the Lambda Book Report, Nightsongs is a finely crafted, well-written mystery, with believable, multi-faceted characters whose author really makes the reader feel the frustrations of good cops and responsible reporters who work within unresponsive bureaucracies.

Noting that the mystery genre has evolved beyond the stereotype of pulp fiction, Mickelbury explained to CBB, The best mystery novel is better by far than any of the so-called literary novels. Mickelbury demonstrated the quality new mystery with her own series featuring Carol Ann Gibson, whom readers first meet in One Must Wait, which to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer is an exceptionally intricate and mysterious thriller that has been translated into French and German. C.A., as her friends call her, and her husband Al are both Washington, D.C. defense lawyers who, despite their success, become disillusioned with defense work. After they decide to quit their jobs and pursue more meaningful work, Al is murdered and C.A. and police detective Jake Graham work to unravel the mystery. Where To Choose, the next installment, saw C.A. a year later, still trying to put her life back together and at the same time help her mother deal with systematic violence in her Los Angeles neighborhood. Reviewers were quick to point out the depth of Mickelburys characters. Long on suspense, characterization and attitude, heres a tale that pleases from start to finish, enthused a Publishers Weekly critic. In Step Between, C.A. and Jake Graham run their own investigation and security company and are deeply involved in two new cases dealing with a missing heiress and the suspicious activities at an off-shore manufacturing plant. When Jake and C.A. are called on to help the new government of a Caribbean island in Paradise Interrupted, they find themselves immersed in blackmail, family secrets, and political scandals.

In 2000 Mickelbury saw the restaging of her 1991 play Waiting for Gabriel.The following year she and a colleague opened an office in Los Angeles, called Forty-Eight Fifty-Two Development Studio. There Mickelbury privately taught fiction writing and script development while awaiting the staging of her next play.

Selected Writings


Time Out, produced as a stage reading at the Susan Charlotte Studios, New York City, 1989.

Waiting for Gabriel, produced as a stage reading at Tribeca Film Center, New York City, 1991, restaged, 2000.

Warm Robes of Remembrance, 1993.

Hush Now, produced as a staged reading, Los Angeles, March 2000.


Keeping Secrets: A Gianna Maglione Mystery, Naiad Press (Tallahassee, FL), 1994.

Night Songs: A Gianna Maglione Mystery, Naiad Press, 1995.

One Must Wait, Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Where To Choose, Simon and Schuster, 1999.

The Step Between, Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Paradise Interrupted, Simon and Schuster, 2001.


Naiad Press Collection, 1994.

Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes: Black Mystery and Suspense Fiction, 1995.



Contemporary Authors, Gale Group, 2000.


Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2000, p. 20; May-June, 2000, p. 19.

Booklist, January 1, 1998, p. 784.

Emerge, March, 1998, pp. 61-62.

Heart & Soul, June-July, 2000, p. 30.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997.

Lambda Book Report, March-April, 1994, pp. 35-36; March-April, 1995, pp. 37-38.

Library Journal, February 1, 1995, p. 103; January, 1998, p. 148; February, 1999, p. 125; February 1, 2000, p. 121; November 1, 2000, p. 101.

Mystery Readers Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, fall, 1998.

New York Times Book Review, January 11, 1998, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, September 10, 1997, p. 58; January 25, 1999, p. 75; January 17, 2000, p. 47.


Additional information was obtained online at Infotrac, www.iac-insite.com and through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on February 8, 2001.

Jeanne Lesinski