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1997 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Mary Higgins Clark


"Reading is the key to education, to getting ahead, to having a bigger life."

Born in the Bronx in 1929, Mary Higgins Clark was the daughter of an Irish American who owned and managed a pub. Her father died when she was 10, forcing her family to move to a small apartment above a tailor's shop. Clark won a scholarship to a girls' academy in high school and worked part time as a switchboard operator and babysitter. Anxious to help her mother with finances, she put off college to work full time after her high school graduation.

Clark attended secretarial school and then worked as an advertising assistant. Three years later, she became a flight attendant for Pan Am. She traveled the world for a year and then married Warren Clark, whom she had known since she was 16. While raising five children, she found time to take a creative writing course at New York University. Unfortunately, after 15 years of marriage, her husband died. To support her family, Clark began writing radio scripts during the day and ventured into book writing in the early morning hours before getting her children off to school. Her first book was a biography of George Washington. It was published but did not do well commercially. Next, she turned to the type of fiction she had always enjoyed reading: suspense novels. Inspired by a true murder case in the news at the time, Clark wrote Where Are the Children?, which became a bestseller in 1975 and marked a turning point in her life and career.

Clark used part of the proceeds from that book to get her education. She graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University with a degree in philosophy. With her second book, A Stranger Is Watching, Clark made her first $1 million. Both of these books were made into feature films. Today, Mary Higgins Clark is one of the most successful authors in the United States. Her books have sold more than 80 million copies in this country alone. In France, she is the number one best selling fiction author. She has written more than 20 suspense novels, all of which became best sellers. Many of these were also made into television films. Clark has also written three successful suspense novels with her daughter, Carol. In 2002 she published her memoirs, Kitchen Privileges.

When asked about her success, Clark says she was never one to put off what she felt she needed to do-especially writing. She advises young people to take their education seriously. "Money alone is a hollow achievement," says Clark. "Develop your talents and work to instill basic values in your life. Follow your dream, and don't put off what you hanker to do."

Active in Catholic affairs, Mary Higgins Clark was made Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, a papal honor. After many years of widowhood, she married John Conheeney in 1996. Between them, they have 16 grandchildren.