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Northwestern Writing Professor Edith Rosen Skom Dies

Best known for penning literary mysteries with 19th-century themes

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February 8, 2016 | by Julie Deardorff
EVANSTON, Ill.  --- Edith Skom, a mystery novelist and artist who taught in the Cook Family Writing Program at Northwestern University for three decades, died on Feb. 3.

A spirited and dedicated teacher, Skom joined the writing program faculty in 1978 and retired from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 2012.

Skom was most widely known for her three literary mysteries: “The Mark Twain Murders,” “The George Eliot Murders” and “The Charles Dickens Murders.” In 1990, “The Mark Twain Murders” was nominated for an Agatha Award, a MacCavity Award and an Anthony Award.  

Published between 1989 and 1998, her books all have a 19th-century literature theme and feature amateur sleuth Professor Beth Austen. They take place at the fictional "Midwestern University.”

At Northwestern, Skom offered introductory, intermediate and advanced expository writing courses and a popular freshman seminar on mysteries and thrillers.

She had high expectations for her students and worked hard to help them succeed.  

“My freshman seminar with Edith Skom taught me more in one quarter than I had learned in four years of high school English,” said Northwestern alum Karen Russell, whose first novel was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Skom earned a B.A. in English at the University of Chicago and both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English at Northwestern. Her literary scholarship on anonymous book reviewing in the 19th century drew considerable interest from fellow scholars.

Based on her excellent teaching and her steady commitment to her work in such service roles as longtime chair of the Writing Program essay awards committee, she earned promotions from lecturer to senior lecturer and, eventually, to Distinguished Senior Lecturer.

Survivors include husband Joseph Skom, retired professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, daughter Harriet Meyer and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at noon Tuesday at Chicago Jewish Funerals, Skokie Chapel, 8851 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie.

Memorial gifts may be made to The Ark, 6450 North California Ave., Chicago. 

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