Jim Murphy, an early SCBWI Member whose well-crafted works of nonfiction entertained and informed generations of young readers, died May 1 at his home in Woodstock, New York, He was 74.
After graduation from Rutgers University with a degree in English literature, history and art history he looked for work as a children’s book editor, but was turned away by a number of publishing houses because he lacked typing skills. Just as he was about to give up on an editorial position, he was hired by another early SCBWI member, Jim Giblin, at Seabury Press, later to be acquired by Clarion. Starting as an assistant he eventually worked his way up to Managing Editor. During his tenure at Clarion he began to write books of his own. His early works of fiction did not interest publishers, but when he switched to nonfiction with his first title in the genre, Weird and Wacky Inventions, he discovered he had found his voice.
Over the next 40 years he wrote some 35 books. Two of those, The Great Fire (Scholastic), exploring the Chicago Fire of 1871 and An American Plague (Clarion) about the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic both received Newbery Honors.
The SCBWI awarded Jim Murphy two Golden Kite awards for nonfiction. The first was in 1991 for The Boy’s War (Clarion) and the second in 1993 for The Long Road to Gettysburg (Clarion).
As a speaker at SCBWI conferences he combined imaginative insights into the creation of nonfiction with a memorable and biting sense of humor.
His enduring legacy, however, is not so much the many honors he received, but the many thousands of readers both young and old who discovered our often controversial history, and because of it emerged better citizens for the truths they had encountered in the pages of his books. He is very much missed.