Monday, February 13, 2012

Carolyn Keene Photo, Letter, and Biographical Sketch

I recently purchased a letter that was sent to a Nancy Drew fan by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Harriet Adams' secretary wrote a letter to the fan and enclosed a photo of Harriet Adams along with a brief biographical sketch. The photo is signed "Carolyn Keene" and appears to be Harriet Adams' signature.

The letter is on paper that measures 6 1/8 inches by 8 inches.

The photo measures approximately 2 1/4 inches by 3 inches.

The biographical sketch is on 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch paper.

The second paragraph is the part that I found the most interesting. It reads:
Mrs. Adams was born in New Jersey and lives in Maplewood. After her graduation from Wellesley College, she settled down in earnest to her chosen career--the writing of girls' mystery stories. Her father was an author and from the time she was a little girl she wrote stories, at first simple, and then more complicated.
I have been trying to figure out how true the statement about Harriet's "chosen career" is. I skimmed through Melanie Rehak's book, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, to try to figure out how much writing Harriet did before her father passed away.

Harriet was a member of the Press Board at Wellesley College, and she was offered a position at the Boston Globe upon her graduation, which her father made her refuse. He did not want his daughter to become a career woman. He did briefly allow her to edit manuscripts.

I do not find any references to Harriet writing as a little girl, although I certainly could have missed them. The Girl Sleuth book takes side trips into historical facts, which requires the reader to skim past all of the historical information in order to continue reading the Stratemeyer story.

My opinion is that becoming a series book author was not Harriet's "chosen" career; rather, it was her "destined" career. Harriet fell into writing as a result of her father's death. When Edward Stratemeyer died, his daughters attempted to sell his company. After they could not find a buyer, they decided to continue his business. Harriet Adams began running the company, and later, she began writing the Nancy Drew books. However, the real story would not read well in a biography of Carolyn Keene.

The statements in the biographical sketch are interesting, since the sketch implies that Harriet was a writer from birth. I have to admit that I thought of Mildred Wirt Benson after I read it. She did write stories from a young age.

If anyone does have specific information about Harriet writing stories, other than newspaper stories, from a young age, let me know.

I want to mention that I greatly admire Harriet Adams. She has been criticized by many for her misleading statements during the later years of her life. In those statements, Harriet maintained that her father and she were the sole authors of the Nancy Drew books.

Edward Stratemeyer wrote the outlines for the first few Nancy Drew books, and Mildred Wirt Benson wrote most of the early books. Since Mildred Wirt Benson was a terrific writer who played an extremely important role in the development of Nancy Drew as a cultural icon, many people deeply despise Harriet for claiming authorship of the early books.

I turned against Harriet when I first read one of the articles with those erroneous statements. In the intervening years, I have forgiven Harriet and now greatly admire her for her contribution to Nancy Drew's legacy. Harriet Adams ran the Stratemeyer Syndicate for more than 50 years, and if she had not taken control of her father's business, this blog would not exist. We owe much to Harriet Adams, and it is best to look past her mistakes.

1 comment:

Paula said...

I think this is a very interesting collectible item. However, my initial reaction is that it's quite deceptive and un-Nancy-Drew-like to answer a young girl's questions about the author Carolyn Keene with this kind of letter, bio, and photo of the "real" author.

I understand there is some truth in it, in that Harriet Adams was so involved with the writing and publishing of many of the ND books, especially the later ones. But still.. it's *not* the truth. Plus the letter is a bit mercenary, pushing the newest ND books, as well as the Dana Girls series. Not something I would expect the author to do when answering mail from a young admirer. Can you imagine the effect of this letter and the other items on an impressionable young girl who thinks she has made personal contact with her idol? At least the letter was from "Carolyn Keene's" secretary, making it a bit more palatable.

I'm glad Carolyn Keene remained a mystery to me until much later. I think Harriet Adams would be more admired for what she did for Nancy Drewdom if she hadn't been so ready to grab all the credit!