A mystery story no more: Sara Ann Freed '67
By: Judy Weaver '81

Sara Ann Freed '67 (bottom at left) edited the Record newspaper as a student. She speaks with her staff about an issue.
Sara Ann Freed ’67 was “a famous person no one ever heard about,” said her husband, Ira Weissman. As a Goshen College student from Souderton, Pa., Freed did not attract much attention from fellow students or faculty. “I would never have guessed, when she came, that one day there would be a gift given to Goshen College in her name,” said Professor Emeritus of Communication J. Daniel Hess.

Freed was at the peak of her career in New York publishing when she died of leukemia on June 25, 2003, at age 57. She was editorin- chief of Mysterious Press and a senior editor at Warner Books, both subsidiaries of AOL Time Warner Book Group. She was an award-winning editor of mystery books who had worked with many well-known writers in the mystery and crime writing genre. After she died, her husband, Ira Weissman, gave Goshen College a thatched-roof cottage in England that had been a favorite retreat spot for Freed. The cottage was recently sold, and the fund was used to establish a Goshen College scholarship in Freed’s name.

The rest of the year is on us: On Feb. 20, the Development Office hosted Tuition Free Day, which symbolically marks the two-thirds point in the year when students' tuition stops paying for their college education and the financial support of others begins. Students, like senior Elena Nussbaum, wrote notes of thanks to donors to the college and received cake and buttons.
Weissman hopes the scholarship will encourage young women who, like Freed, may start out a little unsure of their gifts. As an editor, Freed was particularly good at discovering and encouraging new talent. But as a Goshen College student, Freed first had to discover herself.

When Freed showed up for her first day of expository writing class with Hess, “she kind of slid in sideways and hid,” he said. “She didn’t have much confidence in herself.” On campus, Freed never connected with many of her professors and was not well-known. “Freed was an outsider,” said Hess. “She was hidden in many ways. She was always at the edge of some nervous cliff.”

But when Hess read her essays, he thought she was a good writer and told her so. “It was a surprise to her that she could write,” he said. He invited her to join the close-knit staff of the Record, the college’s student newspaper. Although she majored in history, Freed edited the Record her senior year. Again, her talent – so clear to those around her – seemed to surprise Freed herself. “She was flabbergasted that she could edit a publication like the Record,” Hess said.

She grew in confidence though. “She was discovering something about herself,” said Hess. “At college she found herself. She found her gift … She was not a student leader, but she was just really good and solid. She was a marvelous person.”

After college, Freed landed a job with Mennonite Publishing House, but felt drawn to the big city. She moved to New York City, shared an apartment with a friend and began working for a temp agency. After several years, a temp job at Harper & Row publishing house led to a low-level permanent job. Freed began to work her way up in the publishing world, first as a screener of children’s book manuscripts, and later with a job reading mystery manuscripts for Mysterious Press in 1985. The job was a great fit. “She always liked mysteries,” said Weissman. “She was a bit of an anglophile.”

In the cut-throat world of New York publishing, said Weissman, Freed’s gentle personality unexpectedly turned out to be an asset. “It was what helped her achieve greatness,” he said. “She just kept chugging along quietly. Everybody loved her. She wasn’t competitive and she just kept getting stronger. She was offered other jobs, but she turned them down. She wanted to edit.”

The mystery genre was more open to women writers and editors than other publishing areas in the 1980s, explained Weissman. Even so, Freed experienced hurdles such as lower pay and less recognition than men in equivalent positions. He believes prejudices persist in the publishing field. For that reason, the Sara Ann Freed Scholarship Fund will give priority to women students with an interest in creative writing and the field of publishing. “I think about Sara as a young girl coming to the city,” he said. “I think women need a little push upward.”

When Freed’s life came to an end, her talents were no longer hidden. The New York Times carried her obituary and several thousand people attended her funeral. Warner Books established the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for new mystery novels. At Goshen College, the future Sara Ann Freeds of the world will be supported with scholarships starting in the fall of 2008.