Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Lock Haven, Clinton County
While using the pseudonym of Richard Stevenson, Lipez wrote several mystery novels, including 1996's Chain of Fools and 1998's .
Born in Lock Haven, Richard Lipez was educated at Lock Haven State College and Penn State University. After serving in several capacities in the Peace Crops from 1962 to 1967, he refocused his efforts on writing and journalism. Lipez writes mystery novels under the pseudonym Richard Stevenson, as well as contributing editorials to The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) and book reviews to The Washington Post and Newsday. He also widely contributes to periodicals, including Harper’s, Atlantic, and Newsweek.
Richard Lipez was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, on November 30, 1938. His father Harris worked for Piper Aircraft, a builder of small planes and the heart of the small city’s industry, and his mother Helen worked out of their house. After Piper moved its headquarters away from Lock Haven, his father founded and managed the city’s first radio station, WBPZ. Lipez told The Times Union of Albany, New York, that he ran a weekly jazz show on the station as a teenager.
Lipez matriculated at Lock Haven State College (now Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania), and earned his Bachelor of Science in English with a minor in History. He undertook graduate studies in American Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, but, before finishing, opted to volunteer for the Peace Corps in 1962. He taught English language and composition to ninth grade public school students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the next two years, according to Peace Corps Online.
From 1964 to 1967, Lipez worked as a Peace Corps program evaluator out of Washington, DC. His work brought him to Ethiopia, India, the Caribbean, and Central America. “It was invaluable training as a writer,” he told The Times Union. “We worked with top writers and editors writing reports that were essentially short non-fiction books in the style of the Atlantic.” He also helped train new volunteers at the University of Utah.
After his time in the Peace Crops, he served as the executive director for Action for Opportunity, an anti-poverty agency. In 1970, he left the organization to focus his attentions on writing and journalism full-time.
Lipez wrote book reviews for The Washington Post and Newsday, as well as writing regular editorials for The Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he lived with his then-wife Hedy and their two children. He also contributed articles, fiction, reviews, and satirical pieces to publications, such as Harper’s, Atlantic and Newsweek.
In 1979, he co-authored a thriller titled Grand Slam with Peter Stein. Two years later, in 1981, he saw the publication of Death Trick, the first book of an ongoing detective series revolving around fictional Albany private investigator Don Strachey. He wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stevenson in order to protect his identity and that of his family in the small Pittsfield community because the gay Strachey character reflected Lipez’s own struggles with a confused sexual identity. While writing the novel, Lipez traveled to Albany on weekends to make furtive forays into the city’s vibrant gay community.
“It was an excruciatingly difficult time, as I was coming to realize, very slowly and painfully, that I was not heterosexual, I was homosexual,” Lipez told The Times Union. Writing served as an outlet for his internal struggles, and ultimately served as his way of slowly coming out of the closet. In 1989, he and Hedy divorced and he has since been with his partner Joe Wheaton, a sculptor and furniture maker.
The author is now an open gay activist and his Don Strachey series has spawned a total of eight books, from Death Trick in 1981 to 2003’s Tongue Tied. The novels found popularity in the gay book audience niche, although they continue to gain mainstream appeal as well. They have already been translated into German, French, and Spanish.
The novels often concern other gay characters and issues; 1993’s Third Man Out, for example, features the murder of a gay activist and Strachey’s subsequent sleuthing.
Lipez said he tried to counter stereotypes in crime fiction of gay people “either as hideous psychopaths or pathetic misfits,” according to The Times Union. Reviews of his books suggest he goes a long way toward meeting that goal. The Chicago Tribune review for Third Man Out says, “Stevenson [Lipez] takes a familiar whodunit formula and infuses it with a new life. The action is lively and the plotting honest and nonexploitative.” John S. Morgan’s Richard Stevenson Web site highlights many other favorable reviews.
Two of the Strachey books have also been made into television movies, says Kevin Burton Smith of Thrilling Detective. Here! Films released Third Man Out and Shock to the System in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Lipez has sold the film options to the rest of his books. He continues to write, most frequently for The Berkshire Eagle and The Washington Post. According to his Gale Literary Database biography, he currently lives in a converted barn in rural Otis, Massachusetts, with his partner Joe Wheaton.
Death Trick. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981.
On the Other Hand. New York: S.t Martin’s Press, 1984.
Ice Blues. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
Third Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Shockto the System. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.
Chain of Fools. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
Strachey’s Folly. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Tongue Tied. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
Grondahl, Paul. “Mystery Writer Finds Life Mirrors His Fiction.” The Times Union (9 Jan. 1997): D1.