Re: R.I.P. writer Philip R. Craig, 73
- From: "Francis A. Miniter" <miniter@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 13 May 2007 14:26:08 -0400
Found this at alt.obituaries. (I ASSUME he was 73 - unless the
birthdate is wrong.)
Mystery Writer Philip R. Craig Penned Popular Fiction Series
By JULIA WELLS
Philip R. Craig, the salty Edgartown author who earned national and
local celebrity status for his popular Vineyard mystery series, died
on May 8 at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital after a brief illness. He
was 74 and had lived year-round in a renovated Ocean Heights camp with
his wife Shirley.
At the time of his death Mr. Craig had published 20 books, including
the well-known mystery series whose likable protagonist J.W. Jackson
lives the idyllic Vineyard life - fishing at Wasque, clamming at Cape
Pogue, married to a beautiful woman and solving twisted murders along
And while they never achieved literary acclaim, Philip Craig's books
had no need of it, because their appeal lay in their readability,
their power of escape and their keen sense of place. The author not
only created characters that were agreeable and plots with just enough
twist to pique the reader - he always got the Vineyard right.
"How well he knew the Island and his sense of place - if his character
was driving up Music street, you knew exactly where he was," said Ann
Bassett, events coordinator at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, this
With a new one out each year around the middle of June, the Philip
Craig books made a popular Father's Day present (although ironically
most of them were read by women) - equally good for the beach or a
The 18th book in the J.W. Jackson series, published by Scribner and
titled Vineyard Stalker, is due out next month. Another book which he
coauthored with mystery writer William G. Tapply - the third such
joint venture, titled Third Strike - is due out in the fall.
Mr. Tapply this week wrote an appreciation for his friend and
colleague that is published on the Commentary Page in today's
Mr. Craig's commercial success, which came in mid-life, always
surprised him a little. "Writers write. They write anyway. You don't
quit because nobody buys them. You just do it anyway because it's your
nature. You have stories to tell. So that's how I knew I was a writer,
but I had no expectation of having any life such as this," he wrote in
a personal reflection published in the Martha's Vineyard Magazine in
Born on Dec. 10, 1933, in Santa Monica, Calif., Phil grew up on a
small cattle ranch near Durango, Colo., one of five children. The
children would play so hard their shirts would become untucked and fly
out in the wind behind them as they ran, so the ranch was called the
Flying Shirttail. The family lived with no electricity or running
water until Phil was 10.
As a child, Phil rode horseback or walked two miles to the one-room
Long Lane School, where he received his primary education. At recess
the boys would amuse themselves by throwing hunting knives at a wall
of the stable where their horses were kept.
The school library was a closet with some books in it that dated to
the early 1900s, including the Tarzan novels written by Edgar Rice
Burroughs. Over the next few years Phil read 24 of them, establishing
himself as the reigning Tarzan expert of southwest Colorado. About
this time he began writing poetry and fiction. Later, in Durango High
School, he was influenced by an English teacher who encouraged him to
write more poetry and prose.
Bad knees and flat feet kept him from serving in the Korean War. In
1951, he enrolled at Boston University with the intention of becoming
a minister. At college he was an avid fencer and made All-American in
1955. He graduated in 1957 with a degree in religion and philosophy.
He claimed to be a terrible student and said he had really majored in
fencing and minored in bridge and the university only graduated him
because they wanted to be rid of him. He was later invited to join the
U.S. Olympic fencing squad, but a knee injury and lack of money
prevented him from accepting. By the time he graduated from
university, his academic interests had shifted to literature and
But fencing would shape his future life. One day, while filling in as
an instructor at a college salle, he met Shirley Jane Prada of
Edgartown. In December of 1957 they were married.
In 1962, he obtained a master of fine arts degree in creative writing
from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where Vance
Bourjaily was his advisor. During summers on the Vineyard in the
1960s, he covered Island news as a stringer for the New Bedford
Standard Times and its Vineyard bureau chief Harvey Ewing.
Junior College in Beverly. In the spring of 1965 he read a freshmanFrom 1962 until 1965 he taught English and journalism at Endicott
theme aloud in class to illustrate some point. The theme included
either the word damn or hell - he forgot which - and he was summarily
fired by the dean, whose words he later recalled: "You're too
for us, Mr. Craig."
In the fall of 1965 he joined the faculty at Wheelock College in
Boston, where he continued to teach English. On a sabbatical in 1973
and 1974, he took his family to Europe for the year, living in Spain
and England and traveling to Morocco in northern Africa. While at
Wheelock, Phil often took students to England for a hands-on course in
English literature. He became well known among the locals in the town
of Bath, and was once invited to play on the local pub's cricket team.
Upon his return from England one year, Phil introduced Bath's favorite
pub game, shove ha'penny, to his family and friends, having his own
game board made by a Vineyard headstone carver. Spirited family
competitions ensued, always accompanied by a pint of ale.
Phil remained at Wheelock until the spring of 1999, when he retired as
professor emeritus of English and became a full-time writer.
He wrote his first novel, Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, during noon
lunch breaks in the back room of Al's Package Store in Edgartown,
which was owned by his father in law Al Prada and where he worked
summers. The fiction work was published in 1969, when he was 35. Over
the next 20 years he wrote numerous novels that were never published.
Then in 1989, when he was 55, A Beautiful Place to Die, the first in
the Vineyard mystery series, was published.
With the series Phil Craig found his niche - and commercial success.
Ann Bassett said his sense of place was just one reason: "Number two
was the fishing - the fishing was key. When J.W. was fishing at Wasque
the joy would leap off the page," she said, adding: "And third - J.W.
Jackson is a man who thoroughly loves his wife. In an age of shoot-em-
up and bang-em-up cynicism, to find a character that absolutely loves
his wife is a wonderful thing."
She concluded: "We'll miss him and we'll miss all those books. I can
say sincerely that the Bunch of Grapes family is in mourning."
Cynthia Riggs, a West Tisbury mystery writer who often joined Mr.
Craig for book signings, agreed. "Phil was the most generous person I
can imagine," she said, recalling: "When my first book was published
we were at a signing together and I was trying to spread my book out
so it looked like a lot. He had published 12 or 13 books at the time,
and he would say to people in this long line - 'If you like my books,
you should try Cynthia's too.'
"I am going to miss him terribly."
But he was not just a writer. An avid fisherman, sailor, gardener and
family man, he loved to cook and entertain - all traits that informed
his books, which became as popular for their scallop and bluefish
recipes as for their storytelling. The exclamation delish! has become
a Phil Craig trademark, and last year it was included in the title
a cookbook he coauthored with his wife.
He was a man of strong opinions, especially on the subject of
environmentalists, for whom he had little love, although he was
certainly no advocate for development either. During the early 1990s
when protection for the piping plovers caused beach closures and made
front page news, Phil Craig wrote a number of strongly worded opinion
pieces that were published in the Gazette.
In one take-no-prisoners dispatch, he concluded: "Remember when some
people on the Vineyard were thinking about seceding from the country,
declaring war on the U.S.A., losing and then living off war
reparations? Maybe it's worth another thought. This time, though, we
should refuse to sign the peace treaty until we get a clause written
in that bans environmentalists and the Bomb."
He served on the board of directors for the New England Chapter of the
Mystery Writers of America and led panels at international conferences
of mystery writers all over the country and in England. He taught
workshops on mystery writing and was a guest lecturer at numerous
colleges and universities.
In the fall of 2004 he accepted an invitation to house his papers and
other archival materials in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research
Center at Boston University.
He served on the board of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society
and was vice president of the Martha's Vineyard Chapter of the
Scottish Society. He was a member of the Martha's Vineyard
Surfcasters, the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, The Trustees of
Reservations and the Rod & Gun Club. He and his son Jamie also
belonged to the Speckled Band of Boston, a Sherlock Holmes society.
When he could afford it, he and Shirley would travel, particularly to
sites of ancient civilizations. Together they visited 49 states and 43
He sang in the Island Community Chorus, played the guitar and doted on
his grandchildren, teaching them to write and to fence.
A final, as yet untitled, book in the J.W. Jackson series will appear
around June of 2008.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, his children, Kim Lynch of
Durango, Colo., and Jamie Craig of Edgartown; grandchildren Jessica
and Peter Harmon and Bailey Lynch of Durango, and Riley and Amelia
Craig of Edgartown; brothers Kenneth and Howard Craig and sister
Martha Walker of Durango, as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins.
He was predeceased by his younger brother Roger Craig.
A remembrance will be held in August at a date to be announced, and
his ashes will be spread in the waters off the Vineyard. In lieu of
flowers, donations may be made to the Island Community Chorus, P.O.
Box 4157, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
Originally published in The Vineyard Gazette edition of Friday, May
That is a real loss. I just finished one of his earlier novels, "The Woman Who Walked Into the Sea". I have enjoyed his stories, the earlier ones more than the later ones because they have more word play and intellectual stimulation, but the later ones retained a good sense of plot.
Francis A. Miniter
- R.I.P. writer Philip R. Craig, 73
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