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Authors Guild Mourns Novelist and Great Adventurer Stuart Woods

We grieve the passing of our friend, colleague, and Authors Guild Foundation Advisory Board member Stuart Woods, who died peacefully in his sleep at his Connecticut home on July 22 at the age of 84.

Woods was a prolific writer, publishing more than 75 books, including 62 mystery novels featuring his larger-than-life detective-turned-lawyer-investigator Stone Barrington, 39 of which made The New York Times Best Seller list. He had an outsized personality, craved adventure, and gloried in the thrill of life. He spent time each year at his additional homes in Santa Fe, Key West, and Mount Desert Island, Maine.

“Stuart’s support of young writers was legendary,” said Douglas Preston, president of the Authors Guild. “Over thirty years ago, when I was an unknown writer with one modest book to my credit, Stuart took me under his wing, helped me find an agent, and was incredibly generous with advice and encouragement. He later dragged me, somewhat unwillingly, onto the board of the Authors Guild, which also transformed my life. He was a huge presence in the book world. We will deeply miss him.”

Born and raised in Georgia, Woods graduated from the University of Georgia with a BA in sociology before moving to New York in 1960 to pursue a career as a journalist. When he failed to land a job with a newspaper or magazine, he took a position in advertising. He worked for a New York advertising agency for a decade (with the exception of 10 months when he served in the Air National Guard), before relocating to London for three years to work for a British ad agency.

In 1973, he moved to Galway, Ireland, where it was cheaper to live. He worked part-time and began to write his first novel. “I was about a hundred pages into the book when I discovered sailing,” Woods wrote on his website. “Everything went to hell. All I did was sail.”

In 1976, he decided to compete in the Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR), which began in Plymouth, England, and ended in Newport, Rhode Island. He completed the race in 45 days, finishing somewhere in the middle, but knowing that his life had been permanently altered.

After the race, Woods returned to his native Georgia, where he wrote his first published book—Blue Water, Green Skipper—a nonfiction account of his OSTAR experience. When W.W. Norton & Company acquired the American rights to the book, it also agreed to publish Woods’s novel based on its first 200 pages. In March 1981, eight years after Woods began it, his novel was released. Chiefs is a 1920s-set mystery thriller about a failed cotton farmer who has just been named police chief in a small Georgia town where he must solve the ritual beating and murder of a teenager.

Though Chiefs had a limited run of 20,000 hard copies, it gained popularity when released in paperback and CBS subsequently turned it into a six-hour television movie starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, and Billy Dee Williams. Chiefs also won the Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

In 2010, Woods received the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction, for Imperfect Strangers.

Despite writing two or more novels each year, Stuart continued to sail throughout his career, including skippering a yacht across the Atlantic with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and finishing at Antigua in the Caribbean. Woods was also a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot who flew regularly around the country on his many book tours, where he loved meeting his readers.

Woods was deeply committed to the Authors Guild’s work, becoming a member in 1977 and serving on the Authors Guild Foundation Board from 2004 to 2021 then the Authors Guild Foundation Advisory Board since 2021.

“Stuart was a dear friend, and one of the most generous people you’d ever hope to meet,” said Nick Taylor, Woods’s long-time friend and past president of the Authors Guild. “He lived life on his own terms, and what a life! He loved the Authors Guild because the Guild helped him when he was working to finish his first novel. The money from the fund for struggling authors allowed him to keep his house. That novel was Chiefs, and the rest is history. His friends and readers will miss him enormously.”

The Authors Guild extends our deepest condolences to Woods’s wife Jeanmarie. We take comfort in knowing we have not heard the last from him, as Putnam will publish Black Dog, the 62nd book in the Stone Barrington series on August 2, and Distant Thunder, the 63rd book in the series, on October 11.