|| Philip R. Craig was born
on Dec. 10, 1933, in Santa Monica, Calif., and he and his sister and
three brothers were raised on a small cattle ranch in southwest
Colorado, near Durango. Phil was thrown off his first horse (a big
palomino mare, actually) when he was four years old, and thereafter
rode drag on the annual two-day cattle drives to and from the family's
summer cattle range. Until he was nine or ten, the Craig ranch had no
electricity or running water; but the house was full of books, and he
always remembered the times as happy ones. 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."
Phil rode horseback or walked the two miles to the one-room Long Lane School for eight years. There were eight rows of desks; from left to right they represented eight different grades. He would say that if you were slow in one subject, you could listen with your left ear to what the previous grade was being taught; if you were fast, you could listen with your right ear to what the class above you was being taught. One of the recess activities of the boys was throwing hunting knives at a wall of the stable where they kept their horses during school hours.
The school library was a closet with some old (early 1900s) books in it, including Tarzan novels. Phil had seen Tarzan movies, but had never guessed that there were Tarzan books, and over the next few years he read 24 of them, thereby establishing himself as the reigning Tarzan expert of southwest Colorado. In that same closet were two or three novels about The Campfire Girls, so he read those, too, and became a Campfire Girls expert. About this time he started writing poetry and prose fiction. Later, in Durango High School, under the influence of a wonderful English teacher, Sharley Pike, who loved anyone who liked books and writing, he wrote more poetry and prose.
Bad knees and flat feet kept Phil out of the Korean War, and in 1951 he went to Boston University with the intention of becoming a minister. At BU, he was an avid fencer (All-American in 1955) and eventually got a degree in religion and philosophy. But before graduating in 1957, he had become more interested in literature and writing than in philosophy and religion. Phil studied poetry with Robert Lowell, who quickly persuaded him that he had no future in that field, and studied prose with Gerald Warner Brace, who encouraged him to write fiction. Phil claimed to be a terrible student and barely graduated because he really majored in fencing and minored in bridge. In fact Phil was invited to join the Olympic fencing squad, but a knee injury and a total lack of money prevented him from accepting. Still, he received his degree in 1957, largely, he always thought, because Boston University just wanted to get rid of him. In December of that year, he married Shirley Jane Prada of Edgartown, whom he had met at a fencing salle while in college.
In 1962, Phil was awarded an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where Vance Bourjaily was his advisor. During summers on the Vineyard during the 1960's, he covered Island matters as a stringer for the New Bedford Standard Times.
From 1962 until 1965, he taught English and journalism at Endicott Junior College in Beverly. In the spring of 1965, he read a freshman 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, who said, "You're too creative for us, Mr. Craig." In the fall of 1965, Phil 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. While at Wheelock, Phil often took students to England for a hands-on course in English literature. He became well known to the locals in the town of Bath, England, 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 the colonies, 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.
Best known to many as a novelist, Phil wrote his first novel (Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn) during his noon lunch breaks in the back room of Al's Package Store in Edgartown, where he worked summers. It was published in 1969, when he was 35. His second (A Beautiful Place to Die) was published in 1989, when he was 55. During the 20 years between appearances in print he wrote and submitted novels that no one wanted to publish. Every year since 1989, Scribner has published a volume of Phil's mystery novels, all of which are set on Martha's Vineyard. A Vineyard Killing was the July, 2003 selection of the book club on Good Morning America. Scribner also published First Light and Second Sight, novels co-written with William G. Tapply, author of the Brady Coyne mysteries. Along with his wife, Shirley, Phil wrote a cookbook based on the recipes in his mystery series. It's called Delish: the J.W. Jackson Recipes and was published in September 2006 by Vineyard Stories. The eighteenth book in the J.W. Jackson mystery series, Vineyard Stalker, will be released this June, and Third Strike, the third book co-written with William Tapply, will be out later this year. The final, as yet untitled, book in the J.W. Jackson series will appear around June of 2008.
Among other activities related to writing, Phil served on the board of directors for the New England Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and has chaired or been a member of panels at international conferences of mystery writers in Omaha, St. Paul, Scottsdale, Monterey, Washington D.C., Albuquerque, Denver, and Nottingham, England. He taught workshops on mystery writing on Cape Cod and in Arizona, and has been a guest lecturer on fiction writing at Arizona State University, the University of the Virgin Islands, Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., Emerson College in Boston, and Dartmouth College.
In the fall of 2004 Phil accepted an invitation to house his papers and other archival materials in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. He had more than 20 cartons of material because he'd been saving almost everything pertaining to his writing since the 1950's when he decided to keep a record of his efforts to become a novelist. Phil was flattered by the invitation to house his material in the Gotlieb Archives, but also very aware of the ironic contrast between his many boxes of paper and the single envelope that could contain all of what is known about Shakespeare!
Phil and Shirley retired to their summer home in Edgartown, where he would sail his catboat, surfcast for bluefish, cook, sing in the Island Community Chorus, garden, go shell fishing, lie on the beach, and engage in other island activities. Most mornings, he would write. He also loved to play guitar and sing folk songs with his family and friends. Phil loved to cook and entertain, and even in retirement was constantly busy with social activities. 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. Phil 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 countries.
Phil was an amazing husband and father, who always supported and encouraged his children no matter what direction they took in life. He loved interacting with his grandchildren, encouraging his granddaughter Jessica to write, his grandson Peter to play guitar, and teaching his six year old grandson, Riley, the basics of real fencing; all passions of his life. He was never pushy with advice, but was always there to guide us when it was most needed. In every way, he was larger than life, and his loss leaves a void that can never be filled.