Bestselling author still writing at 93

Author and illustrator Nancy Price ’46 has just published her 10th novel, “Three At the Door,” and is halfway through the next—at the age of 93.

Nancy Price with her illustrations in Hearst gallery
Nancy Price ’46 with an exhibition of her novel illustrations at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2017.

“My aim as I write and draw,” she says, “is to create worlds so real and clear to me that my reader lives for a while on a South Carolina slave plantation or a British warship, or feels the desperation of an unwed mother or an abused wife.”  

Her story of an abused wife, the 1987 suspense novel “Sleeping With the Enemy,” became a 20th Century Fox film starring Julia Roberts.

Many of Price’s books are set in Cedar Falls, Iowa, her longtime home. She arrived there from Detroit at age 15, the daughter of Mary Day Price 1919 and Malcolm Price 1918, president of Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa). Price eventually returned to Cedar Falls after receiving her English and art degrees from Cornell and marrying Howard Thompson, a professor at the university. She studied with Cedar Falls poet James Hearst, whose friend, Paul Engle, the longtime director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, found her an agent.

During the years that followed, Price attended the Writers’ Workshop, received a master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, and became a tenured professor there. She received three authors’ residencies in Italy, France, and Ireland, and more than 100 of her poems appeared in national journals and magazines. She was also a mother of three (her daughter is Catherine Thompson ’74).

Price was 48 when her first novel, “A Natural Death,” a story of slavery, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press/Little Brown. She began her illustrating career with a design for the cover of America magazine and illustrations for many of her novels followed.

She was only 14 when she won her first poetry contest awarded by the Detroit News. After more than 70 years of writing and illustrating, Price says what surprises and pleases her most is life itself. “I can’t believe mine—a Cornell graduate with three small children wrote books in a small upstairs room before the family woke in the morning, and changed their lives, and her own.”

Last summer the Cedar Falls Authors Festival feted Price with an exhibition of her book illustrations, a discussion of “Sleeping With the Enemy” (and a screening of the film), and tours of the homes she or her characters inhabited. A large stone honoring Price was erected in Seerley Park, and this past May she was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Literature, from the faculty of the University of Northern Iowa.

WEB EXTRA: Learn two writing tips from Nancy Price