Barbara Mertz

On this date in 1927, author and Egyptologist Barbara Mertz (née Barbara Louise Gross) was born in Canton, Illinois, to a printer and an elementary school teacher. Mertz received a bachelor’s in Egyptology from the University of Chicago in 1947 and earned her Ph.D. in 1952. Unable to find work in academia due to sexism, Mertz began writing, instilling her beloved characters with the courage to fight sexist social mores. Over the course of her career, Mertz wrote nearly 70 books.

Two of her first books, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt (1964) and Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt (1966), were nonfiction. She then wrote exclusively under noms de plume, publishing 37 mystery-suspense novels under the name Elizabeth Peters — drawn from the names of her children Elizabeth and Peter — and 29 thrillers under the name Barbara Michaels. Mertz often married her scholarly interests in archeology and the Middle East with her love of mystery, romance and strong female characters. Her most popular heroine, Amelia Peabody, was a Victorian-era amateur Egyptologist.

Mertz served as president of the American Crime Writers League and as a member of the Egypt Exploration Society, the James Henry Breasted Circle of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute, the Editorial Advisory Board of KMT (“A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt”) and the National Organization for Women. She received numerous Agatha Award nominations, winning for Naked Once More (1989), two Anthony Award nominations and an Edgar Award nomination. Mertz was named Grandmaster at the 1986 Anthony Awards and received the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1998.

She married Richard Mertz in 1950 and they divorced in 1969. She died at age 85. (D. 2013)

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