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Anita Blackmon Smith was a prolific mystery author who wrote more than 1,000 short stories and several novels. She is most known for her contributions to the mystery genre’s “Had I But Known” school, a foreshadowing technique in which a character expresses regret over failing to recognize a sign portending larger, often deadly, consequences.
Anita Blackmon was born in Augusta (Woodruff County) on December 1, 1892, to Edwin E. Blackmon, who was postmaster and later town mayor, and Eva Hutchinson Blackmon, principal of Augusta Public School. Blackmon graduated from high school when she was fourteen years old. She attended Ouachita College (now Ouachita Baptist University) and then the University of Chicago. Afterward, she taught Latin, German, and French in a local Augusta school. After five years, she moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and continued to teach.
In Little Rock, she married Harry Pugh Smith, who worked for Bell Telephone Company, on May 29, 1920. In 1922, she and her husband moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Blackmon gave up her teaching career to focus on writing, while her husband worked as an auditor.
In 1922, she published her first short stories under the name Mrs. Harry Pugh Smith. She alternated among pen names for her work, mostly using Mrs. Harry Pugh Smith for short stories and Anita Blackmon for novels. Her works appeared in a variety of mystery and romance magazines, including Love Story Magazine, Cupid’s Diary, and Detective Tales. The Arkansas Democrat, Arkansas Gazette, and other newspapers also published her short stories in a serial form.
In 1934, she published her first novel, Her Private Devil, under her maiden name. The book’s openness toward sex appalled many in her hometown. Her second novel, Handmade Rainbows, focused on the Great Depression in the South and a mother’s struggle to support her family during trying times. Many characters were named after real people in Augusta.
Doubleday Doran’s Crime Club published Blackmon’s two mystery novels, Murder à la Richelieu (1937) and There Is No Return (1938), both of which feature Arkansas settings and star Adelaide Adams, a highly judgmental and nosy spinster. These novels established Blackmon’s place in the “Had I But Known” school of mystery fiction. Howard Haycraft, mystery author and editor, included Blackmon in his list of the top ten female authors in the school. The first paragraph of Murder à la Richelieu includes the line: “Had I suspected the orgy of bloodshed upon which we were about to embark, I should then and there, in spite of my bulk and an arthritic knee, have taken shrieking to my heels.”
After her husband’s death on August 1, 1942, Blackmon returned to Little Rock. Her health deteriorated, and she moved to a nursing home. Blackmon died on February 23, 1943. She is buried in Augusta Memorial Park.
In 2013, Coachwhip Publications reprinted Murder à la Richelieu and There Is No Return.
For additional information:Evans, Curt J. “Had I But Known Authors, No. 1: Anita Blackmon.” Mystery File. http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=1863 (accessed October 27, 2016).
Massey, Mabel. “Authors of Woodruff County.” Woodruff County Historical Society: Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 3 (Fall 1975): 21–22.
Razer, Bob. “Arkansas Books and Authors.” Arkansas Libraries 71, no. 2 (2014). Online at http://arlib.org/arkansas-libraries/arkansas-libraries-summer-2014.pdf (accessed October 27, 2016).
Shannon Lausch UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture
Last Updated 11/8/2016
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