Published last week, The Library of America’s two-volume collection Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s has already won praise from the Washington Post and the Charlotte Observer, which says that the anthology “revives many a forgotten masterwork.”
“Forgotten masterwork” is a helpful capsule description of the last novel collected in the set, 1958’s Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens, which had effectively fallen off the cultural radar despite having been made into the film Band of Outsiders by Jean-Luc Godard in 1964. Readers may be curious to know more about Hitchens (1907–1973) beyond what’s contained in The Library of America’s biographical note, which lists the more than forty titles she published under four different names in a career that spanned thirty-five years.
So who was Dolores Hitchens, aka D. B. Olsen, aka Dolan Birkley, aka Noel Burke? Women Crime Writers editor Sarah Weinman has uncovered a 1952 letter from Hitchens to her editor at Doubleday, Isabelle Taylor, which explains at least one change of nom de plume and also serves as a witty miniature author bio. The letter originally saw the light of day in the privately published 1995 Doubleday Crime Club Compendium 1928–1991, edited by Ellen Nehr, and is here reprinted by permission of the Dolores Hitchens estate.
It’s no secret that I am also D. B. Olsen. In fact I’m glad to get away from the Olsen name for a change (not having been married to Mr. Olsen for some twelve years now makes the necessity of continuing to be D. B. Olsen literally a bit irksome). The books I do under the Hitchens label are not the same type. It gives me a fresh lease on life. A new reincarnation, book-wise.
The full name, and I’m not making this up as I go along, is Julia Clara Catherine Maria Dolores Robins Norton Birk Olsen Hitchens. The first five names have been whittled down to one—the only one I like. The five last names are accounted for by a series of step-fathers and two husbands.
I always hated the name Julia and the pay-off came, at a graduation party at High School, when names were used in rhymes on the place-cards, and some would-be poet rhymed Julia with fool-ya. That was the moment when I became, once and for all, Dolores. Wouldn’t you?
I’m taking psychology courses at the local college in my spare (joke) time with the ultimate aim of outfitting my characters with the latest in psychoses and fixations. Last time I wrote you we lived in Eureka but are now back in southern California on the outskirts of Long Beach in a district called Lakewood where the houses are laid overnight, like eggs. An estimated 3,500 people are moving in. We’re in an older district, however, and miss much of the excitement.
Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens is also available as a Library of America e-book and audiobook. Click here (scroll down) for more information on both formats.
Visit the Women Crime Writers companion website for complete information on all eight novels and their authors, along with appreciations by contemporary writers and related contextual material.