November 11th – Anna Katharine Green

There are two kinds of artists in this world; those that work because the spirit is in them, and they cannot be silent if they would, and those that speak from a conscientious desire to make apparent to others the beauty that has awakened their own admiration.

Anna Katharine Green

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 11th, 1846, Anna Katharine Green was a poet and novelist and one of the first writers of American Detective Fiction. 

She long wanted to write romantic verse, corresponding with Ralph Waldo Emerson, but her poetry failed to gain traction. However, her first novel, The Leavenworth Casepublished in 1878, became one of the first best-sellers. It was also one of the first full-length detective novels published in America, and it received praise from not only the public but also author Wilkie Collins. Green went on to write 40 more novels, including The Sword of Damocles (1881), The Circular Study (1900), and The House in the Mist (1905).

In 1884 she married furniture maker and actor Charles Rohlfs. She was 38, and he was 31. The couple went on to have three children – Rosamund, Roland, and Sterling. And while she’s having babies in her forties, she’s also cranking out detective stories, more than a novel a year. 

Although many of these books are forgotten today, and the Victorian tones and conventions of writing may seem dated to modern readers, Green is still considered the mother of the American Mystery. In her time she made a handsome living with her writing. Her legacy burns bright in her impact on the genre, especially writers like Agatha Christie, who credit Green with influencing their writing. 

Lesson from Green:

When exploring authors’ lives, a common theme comes up: writers who have their hearts set on something – writing poetry, writing literary fiction – and fail to make any headway. Then, on a whim, they try something else, something they may even feel a little opposed to – and Bang! It’s a hit! I’m not sure what that’s about, other than the fates laughing at your ego. But it’s true. So you’d do well to try something else if what you’ve been focused on isn’t working. 

And excuses begone! Like Green – don’t give a damn about conventions or labels or what you should be doing. How fashionable was it for Green to get married and start having babies at 38 in a time when women couldn’t even vote? And with that – she continued to write and bring in money for her family. Although she was reportedly against the suffrage movement, she still decidedly carved out her own life on her own time frame with her own rules. 

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