George? Bess? Or Nancy? Nancy, of course!

Created by Caroline Keene, and first published in 1930, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories have sold over 70 million copies and become a cherished part of our cultural landscape. The teenage sleuth has been a noted inspiration for generations of women, including Sonia Sotomayor, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hillary Clinton, and me!

Nancy Drew novels are the first novels I remember reading independently, and I think I began at around first grade. Her stories were just scary and dangerous enough, and over the years I read and reread them many times. I consider myself lucky because my mother read them first, and her mother used to buy her one sometimes when they took the trolly to the bank to deposit my grandfather’s paycheck. The books were expensive for my grandparents, and so my mother wasn’t able to collect the whole set, but she did get quite a few, and she was very generous with them, first loaning them to her friends as a child, and then to the local high school girls who used to babysit my brother and me, and then I read them. When I got my own apartment as an adult, two things from home went with me, the family dog, and the Nancy Drews. Lucky for me, my sister was never interested in either!

Nancy, what a great woman. Nancy was very smart (I always wanted to be very smart!), and she was kind, and a busybody, but in a good way. She was also wealthy, generous, and a great friend to both Bess and George. Nancy dressed well, had a convertible (I’m still waiting for mine Nancy!), and a dapper boyfriend.

I’ll share an interesting bit of trivia from my association with Nancy Drew. When I was getting my BA my college decided that all students (no matter their major) in their junior year, would have to take an English exam, and if they didn’t pass it, they would have to repeat freshman composition ( a fate worse than death!). The funny thing was, it wasn’t a writing exam, it was a vocabulary test. And it was chock full of words like divan and consommé and luncheon and vacuous; words I knew, because of Nancy Drew (or, more correctly, Caroline Keene). In my graduating class, among the other English majors, I was the only one who passed the test on the first try. Thank you Nancy!

Carolyn Keene is the pseudonym of the authors of the Nancy Drew mystery stories and The Dana Girls mystery stories (also a favorite of mine!), both produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Syndicate, hired writers, beginning with Mildred Wirt Benson, to write the manuscripts for the Nancy Drew books. The writers were required by their contract to give up all rights to the work and to maintain confidentiality. Benson is credited as the primary writer of Nancy Drew books under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Harriet Adams (Edward Stratemeyer’s daughter) added new titles after the retirement of Benson. Also involved in the Nancy Drew writing process were Harriet Stratemeyer Adams’s daughters, who gave input on the series and sometimes helped to choose book titles, and the Syndicate’s secretary, Harriet Otis Smith, who invented the characters of Nancy’s friends Bess and George.

Are you the next Caroline Keene? Hawkshaw Press is seeking a great woman detective writer, and it could be you!

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