When I was twelve, I couldn’t wait to go to the public library to find another Phyllis Whitney book on the shelves, hoping someone had returned one I hadn’t yet read. These books were a combination of mystery and light romance that kept me turning pages, lost in another land. Her locales were exotic, her women and girls strong-minded problem-solvers, and her writing was filled with fast-paced adventure.
A prolific author, she published 39 adult suspense novels, 14 books for young adults, 20 children’s mysteries, guides to writing, and many, many magazine stories. Her first novel was A Place for Ann, published in 1941 by Houghton Mifflin. It was about a group of worlds who start a business to show what they can do, eventually starting the House of Tomorrow. Her final novel was published in 1997, Amethyst Dreams, published by Crown. That means her publishing career spanned 56 years. She received the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America in 1988.
Ms. Whitney was born in Yokohama, Japan, and lived her first fifteen years with her parents in Japan, China, and the Phillipines. In 1918, Ms. Whitney’s father died in China and Phyllis and her mother traveled to Berkeley, California, living there and later in San Antonio, Texas. Phyllis dreamed of being a dancer and her mother worked hard to make that dream come true. Ms. Whitney’s mother died in San Antonio and Phyllis went to live with her aunt in Chicago, where she graduated from high school and turned her attention to writing. Two of her mysteries for children won Edgar awards, Mystery of the Haunted Pool and Mystery of the Hidden Hand. Three more were nominated for that award, Secret of the Tiger’s Eye, Secret of the Missing Footprint, and Mystery of the Scowling Boy.
Phyllis Whitney died on pneumonia at the age of 104 on February 8, 2008.