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Stephen Wright: 1922-2000

Stephen Wright, best known to Ripper enthusiasts for his Whitechapel Journal newsletter and his book Jack the Ripper: An American View, died in New York City on 18 April 2000. He was seventy-seven years old.

Wright was born in New York City on 30 November 1922, to Martin and Yolanda K. Wright. His father was a painter. Stephen joined the United States Navy in 1943, serving as a pharmacist's mate throughout World War II. He returned from the war in 1946, and enrolled in Long Island University. Stephen graduated from L.I.U. with a B.A. in 1949 and acquired an M.A. from New York University the following year. In May of 1954 he married Susan Halpert - they would both co-author Crime in the Schools in 1959. A novel set in a fictional New York City high school, the book probed the origins of juvenile delinquency and suggested the major causes were to be found in the public school system. Stephen and Sylvia were divorced one year after its publication, in 1960. Either at this time or in the years that followed, Stephen came out as an active member of New York's gay community.

Crime in the Schools
Crime in the Schools
Different: An Anthology of Homosexual Short Stories
Different: An Anthology of Homosexual Short Stories
Brief Encyclopedia of Homosexuality
Brief Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

In 1974 Stephen edited his best-selling work, Different: An Anthology of Homosexual Short Stories. In the introduction he noted that the stories in the anthology - authored by such diverse talents as Oscar Wilde, Charles Beaumont, Guy de Maupassant and Sherwood Anderson - were chosen not because of the sexual preference of their authors, but because of the important and evocative homosexual themes presented within them. His next work, Brief Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, was privately printed by the "Stephen Wright Press" in 1978. Although inappropriately titled - it was less an encyclopedia than a series of 12-15 short articles - the book covered several major aspects of homosexuality in a frank and personal manner. One article, for example, detailed Stephen's own traveling experiences in Amsterdam, and suggested the best places to visit for a gay-friendly experience. The following year Stephen began the Stephen Wright Review, a periodical catering to the New York City gay community.

The Review remained in print only until 1980, the same year in which Stephen published his first play, "The Greatest Thrill." In the winter of 1984 he began yet another quarterly newsletter, Stephen Wright's Mystery Notebook. It specialized in publishing book reviews and information on new publications in the genre, as well as original pieces by established and unknown authors. Two years later he self-published another novel, The Adventures of Sandy West, Private Eye.

Writing was indeed Stephen Wright's greatest passion. He was a member of the Authors Guild, the Authors League of America and the Mystery Writers of America. In an interview with Contemporary Authors, he advised aspiring authors to "begin writing at an early age [and] get published any way you can, in whatever medium." He cautioned young authors not to expect writing to always be a pleasant and enjoyable experience. More often than not, he said, it will be "the hardest thing you'll ever do." Above all, Stephen advised, "try to be as original as you possibly can."

Apart from writing, Stephen also had a keen interest in early films, ragtime music and book collecting. He particularly enjoyed the music of Ruth Etting and was proud to own first editions of all of Somerset Maugham's works.

Sources

Becker, Mary Beth - Mystery Writers of America. Private Correspondence.
Contemporary Authors Online.
The Writers Directory 2001.
Who's Who in Writers, Editors & Poets.
The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Toronto, Ontario - Canada.
The New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. New York, NY - U.S.A.

Out thanks to Tom Wescott for funding the research for this obituary.


Related pages:
  Stephen Wright
       Message Boards: Whitechapel Journal 
       Ripper Media: Jack the Ripper: An American View 
       Ripper Media: Whitechapel Journal