Thursday, October 3, 2013

Phyllis A. Whitney (1903-2008)

Author, Dancer, Editor, Teacher
Born September 9, 1903, Yokohama, Japan
Died February 8, 2008, Faber, Virginia

Phyllis Ayame ("Iris") Whitney was born on September 9, 1903, in Yokohama, Japan. Her father worked in an export house. Her mother, formerly married and a former actress, was the granddaughter of Donald MacLeod, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo and a member of the Scottish Black Watch. Phyllis Whitney lived in Japan, China, and the Philippines until age fifteen. With the death of her father, she and her mother traveled to the United States. They lived in Berkeley, California, and San Antonio, Texas. When her mother died, Phyllis went to live with an aunt in Chicago. That's where she graduated high school (in 1924) and where she began her career as a writer. She sold stories to newspapers and pulp magazines, including All-Story Love Stories, Thrilling Love, and Weird Tales. During the 1940s, Phyllis Whitney served as a children's book editor at the Chicago Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer and taught writing courses at Northwestern University and New York University. Her first book for young people, A Place for Ann, was published in 1941. Her first adult suspense novel, Red Is for Murder, followed in 1943. Phyllis A. Whitney wrote dozens more books over the next half century. In the process, she won multiple awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best children's mystery of the year (1961, 1964), and lifetime achievement awards from the Mystery Writers of America, Malice Domestic, and the Society of Midland Authors. Over the course of her long life, Phyllis lived in places all across the United States. An only child, she was married twice and had an only child. Every photograph I have seen of her shows a happy, smiling woman. "Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by," she advised beginning writers. "If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard." When she was seventy-nine, Phyllis Whitney gave an interview in which she said, "I always told myself that when I get old I'll reread all my books, but I never seem to get old." Her last book, Amethyst Dreams, was published in 1997 when she was ninety-four years old. Phyllis A. Whitney died on February 8, 2008, in Faber, Virginia. She was 104 years young.

Phyllis A. Whitney's Story in Weird Tales
"The Silver Bullet" (Feb. 1935)

Further Reading

Thunder Heights by Phyllis A. Whitney, originally published in 1960. This is a later edition, probably from the late 1960s or early '70s. One of my readers described Gothic novels as "girl meets house." Phyllis Whitney hated the label "Queen of the American Gothics," but there's the girl and there's the house. The Gothic formula goes back more than two centuries. The television show Dark Shadows, which begins with the girl traveling to her new place of employment in creaky old Collinwood, must have helped popularize the genre for a new generation of readers. We have all known simultaneous excitement and apprehension at traveling to a new place and beginning a new life. I believe that's part of the appeal of Gothic romance.
Phyllis A. Whitney (1903-2008), from The Junior Book of Authors.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment