Monday, February 11, 2008

Homage to Phyllis Whitney

At Bellport High School out on Long Island, my brother graduated as his class valedictorian, my sister somewhere at the top of her class. And then there was me. I held the solid middle ground of my graduating class.

But I was the only one who met Phyllis Whitney, an author whose books I'd read since the second grade. Her grandkids attended high school, one a year ahead of me, the other a year behind. Phyllis Whitney spoke at one of our library classes at Bellport High when I was a junior. I remember her warmth and the sparkle in her eyes when she spoke about writing.

She sponsored a writing contest and I, bored out of my mind from mindless high school chatter, decided to enter. Phyllis Whitney started the story and we were asked to complete it. I'll have to dig it out of my archives and include it at a later point. I still have the issue of the publication that the story appeared in.

I remember doodling in my notebook and daydreaming in Social Studies class until I heard my name on the loudspeaker. I wasn't sure why my name was mentioned until a classmate advised me. That was the first and only time my name was projected around the school. I had won the contest, an award and reward for high school years that passed without distinction.

Many years later, I found out from a group of children's book writers that Phyllis Whitney was living in Virginia. I would come across the contest publication from time to time when I was cleaning and thanks were long overdue. I wrote to thank her for this hefty start to my writing career. And Phyllis Whitney replied with a note when she was just 100 years old.

"What a lovely letter! You bring back years that passed so long ago. I'm happy to know that I inspired you to become a writer.

I will send a copy of your letter to Sara Courant who sponsored those affairs. I know she will be pleased.

Today, I no longer write fiction, but I have been working on my autobiography.

All best,

Phyllis A. Whitney"

Phyllis Whitney passed away on February 8, 2008 at the age of 104.

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