October 12, 2003 by

Carolyn Heilbrun


Categories: Education, Writers/Editors

cheilbrun.jpgCarolyn Gold Heilbrun, a feminist scholar and mystery novelist, took her own life on Oct. 7. Cause of death was asphyxiation. She was 77.
As a child, Heilbrun was a voracious reader. She loved Nancy Drew and British mysteries, but also reveled in the more literary works of Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1947 then earned a masters degree and a doctorate in English at Columbia University.
Two years later, she joined the faculty of Columbia as an English and comparative literature professor. She remained with the school for more than three decades and became the first director of its Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Her scholarly articles and nonfiction books mainly focused on interpreting women’s literature from a feminist perspective.
When she was away from the ivory tower world of academia, Heilbrun wrote best-selling mystery novels. Her most famous heroine, Kate Fansler, was a feminist professor of literature who solved crimes. Writing under the pseudonym Amanda Cross, Heilbrun penned 12 Fansler books, including “Death in a Tenured Position,” “Sweet Death, Kind Death” and “The James Joyce Murder.”
In 1981, she won the prestigious Nero Wolfe Award for literary excellence in the mystery genre. Her autobiography, “Writing a Woman’s Life,” was published in 1988.
“The journey’s over. Love to all. Carolyn,” Heilbrun wrote in her suicide note.

3 Responses to Carolyn Heilbrun

  1. Sharon Thompson

    Carolyn was a great, great teacher. I learned the comparative method from her, and it has informed every reasonable, passionate thought I have had since. I encountered her well before 2nd Wave Feminism and before I had any idea who I was, any idea about the world was. Without her rigor and tenderness, I doubt I’d ever have even had a glimpse of either. She offered to help me when I had nowhere to turn. Stupidly, I didn’t believe in taking help, and I didn’t think I was worth it, in part, because I was making decisions I knew she would disagree with. Instead, I should have stayed close and argued.
    But you had plenty of women arguing with you, Carolyn. So I guess it’s all right. Still, I wish I could roll back time. I’d love to be back in that ugly Columbia classroom listening to you explicate the great literary critics. Now you’ve set another sort of example to debate. Obviously you didn’t want to “rest in peace.” Sharon

  2. Donald Jenner

    Whiling away hours reading Amanda Cross novels has never been a waste of time. If anything, Dr. Heilbrun ended at the top of her form — introducing (in 2001) a new detective and (in 2003) a whole new look for Kate Fansler. A lady to be reckoned with, both in her presence and in her passing.

  3. anastasiya

    my name is anastasiya, i am a student of minsk state linguistic university , belarus. i am interested in the mystery novels of carolyn heilbrun, because since last year i have started my diplom work and i would like to talk to people who probablu knew this really great writer, or who is also interested in her work.
    if it is possible to answer to my question, or someone will help me, i will be very greatful, thanks

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