Phyllis Ayame Whitney was born on September 9, 1903, to Charles Joseph Whitney and Mary Lillian Mandeville. Her American-born parents had been living in Asia. When their daughter was born in Yokohama, they gave her a middle name that means “iris” in Japanese. After her father died in 1918, Whitney and her mother returned to the United States and lived in California and Texas until her mother’s death in San Antonio in 1922. Whitney lived with her aunt in Chicago, where she graduated from high school in 1924. She married George Garner a year later. In 1928, she sold her first short story to the Chicago Daily News. She wrote in her spare time while she worked in the children’s room of the Chicago Public Library and later in area bookstores. Her daughter, Georgia, was born in 1934. Whitney had published more than one hundred short stories before her first book, the young-adult novel A Place for Ann (1941), was published.
Although in 1943 Whitney published an adult mystery, Red Is for Murder (later reissued as The Red Carnelion), in her early career she was primarily a writer of young-adult novels and mysteries. In three of her earliest books, A Star for Ginny (1942), Ever After (1943), and The Silver Inkwell (1945), her young female protagonists work toward a career in publishing, two as illustrators of children’s books and one as an author. In 1942, Whitney began a four-year stint as a children’s book editor for the Chicago Sun. She held the same position on The Philadelphia...
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