Anita Blackmon was born in 1892 in the small eastern Arkansas town of Augusta. The daughter of Augusta postmaster and mayor Edwin E. Blackmon and his wife, Augusta Public High School principal Eva Hutchison Blackmon, both originally from Washburn, Illinois, Anita Blackmon revealed a literary bent from a young age, penning her first short story at the age of seven.

the public high school in Augusta, Arkansas

By all accounts, Blackmon grew up into a vivacious, attractive, outgoing young woman. The future novelist graduated from high school at the age of fourteen and attended classes at Ouachita College and the University of Chicago. Returning home from Chicago, she taught languages in Augusta for five years before moving to Little Rock, where she continued to teach school.

ladies dormitory, Ouachita College

In 1920, Blackmon left teaching and married Harry Pugh Smith in Little Rock. The couple moved to St. Louis, where Blackmon had an uncle who served as a St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad vice president, and in 1922 Blackmon published the first of what would be over a thousand short stories. Blackmon’s short stories appeared in a diverse collection of pulps, including Love Story Magazine, All-Story Love Stories, Cupid’s Diary, Detective Tales and Weird Tales.

Blackmon began publishing novels in 1934 with a work entitled Her Private Devil, one that provoked some scandalized talk back in Augusta. Devil was published by William Godwin, a press, as described by Bill Pronzini, that specialized in titillating novels that pushed the sexual envelope of the day.  Godwin titles by other authors in the writing stable such as Delinquent, Unmoral, Illegitimate, Indecent, Strange Marriage and Infamous Woman give some idea of the nature of most Godwin fiction.

Blackmon’s book, which detailed the unhappy life of a southern small-town girl who gives into her overmastering sexual desires, is fairly bold, but by no means a “dirty” book. In actuality it is a serious study of a troubled young woman handled with considerable sensitivity and it is certainly not explicit by today’s standards. Still, the book raised something of a stir in conservative Augusta, with some in the town expressing disapproval.

Over the next few years Blackmon published traditional, mainstream novels under the name Mrs. Harry Pugh Smith, some of which had been previously serialized, before concluding her run with her two mystery novels, published, like Her Private Devil, under her maiden name.

The best known of the Mrs. Harry Pugh Smith novels was Handmade Rainbows, a tale of middle class Depression-era life in small southern town very like Augusta. Part of the enjoyment one gets from Blackmon’s better novels stems from the author’s effective depiction of unique southern local color.

Blackmon’s Murder a la Richelieu clearly is set in Little Rock, where there was in fact a Richelieu Hotel, while There Is No Return is set far in the Ozarks. Certainly many Golden Age mysteries with Arkansas settings do not come to my mind.

Why Anita Blackmon produced no more Adelaide Adams mysteries in her last five years of life is unknown. However, Blackmon died after a lengthy illness in a nursing home in Little Rock, where she moved after the death of her husband.  Perhaps under the circumstances she was not up to plotting and writing another full-length mystery novel, though she is said to have continued writing until shortly before her death.

Although Blackmon’s novel-length mystery output is very small, both her Adelaide Adams novels merit reprinting as significant examples of the HIBK tale.  Also worth noting are the many now-unknown short stories that Blackmon wrote, some of which (those published in Detective Tales) might well be of interest to mystery genre fans. Clearly, further delving is in order!

Information on Anita Blackmon’s life was drawn from Woodruff County Historical Society, Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 3 (Fall 1975), pp. 21-22 and interviews with Rebecca Boyles and Virginia Boyles. Special thanks for his generous help to Kip Davis, Augusta City Planner.

 In part two of this series I will take a look at the distinguished Margaret Armstrong, the next of our so-called HIBKers.--The Passing Tamp