South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers

By Tom Mack | Go to book overview

Smith, Gregory White (b. 1951).

Writer, publisher, and Pulitzer Prize winner. Born in Ithaca, New York, in 1951, to William R. Smith, a hotel administrator, and Kathryn White, Gregory White Smith graduated from Colby College with an A. B. in English in 1973. He met his life partner Steven Naifeh when the two of them were studying law at Harvard University; each of them earned J.D. degrees in 1977, but neither of them decided to become practicing attorneys. Instead, both men opted to try their hand at writing books. What followed was a series of commercial titles, including such lifestyle guides as Moving Up in Style: The Successful Man’s Guide to Impeccable Taste (1980), What EveryClient Needs to Know about Using a Lawyer (1982), and Why Can’t Men Open Up?: Overcoming Men’sFear of Intimacy (1984). It was, however, a series of true-crime narratives that brought the writing duo their first serious critical attention. The first of three such books, The Mormon Murders(1988), chronicled a forgery plot that turned deadly. Critics praised the bestselling volume for its meticulous research, which became the hallmark of Naifeh and Smith’s compositional strategy.

In 1989 both men moved to Aiken, South Carolina, purchasing Joye Cottage, the former home of the wealthy Whitney family and one of the signature residences of the city’s heyday as a glamorous winter resort. The challenges that they faced in rehabilitating the mansion, which had been empty for almost a decade, are recounted in the book On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye: A RestorationComedy (1996). That same year marked the publication of their monumental biography of American artist Jackson Pollock, which subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize. For more information on that book, please consult the entry on Steven Naifeh.

The Aiken years have been marked by a pattern of alternating subject matter: true crime narratives and artist biographies. In the former category are Final Justice (1993), which, as the subtitle indicates, focuses on the courtroom strategies employed by the legal team hired to defend “the richest man ever tried for murder,” and A Stranger in the Family (1995), wherein the authors try to get inside the brain of a serial rapist-killer, Danny Starrett, who targeted young women along the Georgia-South Carolina border.

The same careful research and psychological insight that Naifeh and Smith applied to these true crime narratives also informs the biggest, most time-consuming project that the two men have tackled to date: the 953-page VanGogh: The Life (2011). Just as they combed the prison journals of Danny Starrett to gain insight into his disturbed mind, they scoured the archives at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, perusing hundreds of unpublished Van Gogh family letters, to try to understand the exact nature of the artist’s troubled genius.

To date, however, Smith’s most personal book—and the one for which he gets top billing on the title page—is Making Miracles Happen (1997), which tells the story of his diagnosis, ten years earlier, of an inoperable brain tumor and his successful attempt to find a treatment to prolong his life and prove his physicians’ dire prognosis wrong.

In addition to writing their own books, Naifeh and Smith started their own publishing firm, Woodward-White, Inc., which has published the directory The Best Lawyers in America since 1982 and the medical information service The Best Doctors in America since 1989. TOM MACK

Naifeh, Steven and Gregory White Smith. On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.

Smith, Gregory White and Steven Naifeh. Making Miracles Happen. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.

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