Thursday, February 1, 2024

Novelist and Travel Writer Blair Niles

The Daily Item (Lynn, Massachusetts)

15 Apr 1959, Page 6

Novelist and travel writer, Blair Niles was born as Mary Blair Rice on June 15, 1880 in Staunton, Virginia. She was educated at home by her mother. As a teen, she attended the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in Massachusetts and later the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. 

In 1902, she married but we're going to skip over the details since she would later divorce him in 1913 on the grounds of cruelty. 

While she was married, she went on numerous scientic expeditions to Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad, British Guiana, Europe, Egypt, Ceylon, India, Burma, Borneo, China, and Japan. She co-authored Our Search for Wilderness (1910). 

After her divorce, she married Robin Niles and briefly worked as a New York delegate to the Congressional Union ofr Woman Suffrage.  She would become a renowned travel writer in the 1920s with her new approach to travel writing called "the human travel book" where Blair Niles would link contemporary culture with the past through the exploration of history, traditions, and legends. 

In 1925, she founded the Society of Woman Geographers. 

She wrote for numerous magazines. In 1926, she published Black Haiti: A Biography of Africa's Eldest Daughter, a story of the largest slave revolt in history led by Toussaint L'Overture.  In 1928, she published Condemned to Devil's Island, the fictionalized account of the escapes of René Belbenoît, a prisoner on the Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana. And, in 1931, she published Strange Brother, a compassionate portrayal of gay men in Harlem.  

She authored eighteen books with seven of them as fiction. She received numerous awards including the Constance Skinner Award, which is now the Women's National Book Award. Blair Niles died on April 14, 1959 in New York. She is buried in a family grave in Lakeview Cemetery in Blackstone, Virginia. 


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