Another chapter has come to an end in the Lowcountry’s literary community. Nationally renowned Sullivan’s Island novelist Dorothea “Dottie” Benton Frank, 67 years old, died last week in Manhattan after a short-lived battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, according to the Post and Courier.
The revered New York Times bestselling author’s untimely death came as a shock to many of her friends, literary peers and avid readers. Although she’s no longer here in the physical, Frank’s words will live on inside the hardcovers and paperbacks stocked on the shelves of home studies, local libraries and name brand bookstores.
Born and raised on the barrier island, most of Frank’s storytelling and imagery evoked was inspired by her coastal surroundings. The 1969 graduate of General William Moultrie High School, after completing fashion school in Atlanta, went on to write 20 books based on her upbringing in the Lowcountry’s landscape.
Although she was an island girl at heart, which was clearly portrayed throughout her life’s work, Frank frequently spent time back and forth between Sullivan’s Island and the New York City area. Frank had another home in Montclair, N.J. where she raised her children during the early stages of her career.
As for her success on the page, Frank’s first novel in 2000 was fittingly titled “Sullivan’s Island,” which debuted on the New York Times list at No. 9 nationally. This beach read would go on to be shared with more than 1 million printed copies in 10 different languages.
Other subsequent bodies of work like “Isle of Palms,” “Shem Creek” or “Folly Beach,” shared similar sand-filled memories of places she went and people she met. For Frank, her novels’ themes were always about celebrating her heritage.
Frank’s most popular piece to date is her latest and last novel she’ll ever write, “Queen Bee.” The book was published in May and soared to No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Over the years, Frank forged many friendships with book worms, island folk and even contemporary authors, like beloved Isle of Palms resident and New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe.
“There’s a lot of crossover between our books,” Monroe said. “Her readers and my readers are shared. They both love to read about the Lowcountry and that’s what (Frank) and I love to write about.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Frank and Monroe inevitably crossed paths at a local book signing. Monroe referred to her relationship with Frank and other notable authors like Nathalie Dupree, Patti Callahan Henry, Marjory Wentworth, Cassandra King and her husband the late Pat Conroy as a “tribe.”
They would all catch up anytime one of them was in town for a book signing or any event that gave them an excuse to enjoy each other’s company.
“We know that we are watching out for each other and care about each other’s successes,” Monroe said. “I do feel that over the years we’ve all come to depend on each other to be there.”
When Monroe and Frank would reunite they chatted about the business side of publishing, families, celebrated weddings and successes of their children and grandchildren. It was mostly never about their day jobs as highly esteemed wordsmiths.
“We were just two women talking as women. We really didn’t dig into our books,” Monroe laughed.
Monroe confessed now that Frank’s gone there’s a real “hole in the tribe.” What she admired most about Frank was her strong personality and larger than life persona. An aura that was tastefully unapologetic yet unpretentious.
“She always had a joke. She always had a big smile. And we miss her,” Monroe lamented. “She was a very smart woman, in addition to being a good writer. She was savvy about the business and always had something to share.”
Monroe described Frank’s writing style as a passionate one that derived from an honest place. She noted that her peers took great pride in her writing because it originated from what or who she knew.
“She had her own distinct writing voice that was humorous and she could nail a character beautifully,” Monroe remarked. She appreciated the humor and quirkiness of Frank’s characters.
As far as adjusting to the fame and the lifestyle that comes with being a New York Times bestselling author, Monroe noted that there’s a pressure that comes with the publicity. She admitted it’s difficult and it puts a lot of strain on one’s personal life and health.
“I think if there’s a lesson that we call need to take from Dottie’s and Pat Conroy’s sudden passing is that life is pressure and that we have to take care of ourselves and each other,” Monroe added. “And to remember every day to say ‘I love you’ to people you care about.”
Monroe expressed that she never got the chance to say goodbye due to Frank’s sudden departure. She confided that having no closure makes things all the more sorrowful.
“It’s like a thief in the night. It can strike fast and hard and catch you by surprise. It’s not something I think anyone anticipated,” she said.
In 2015, Frank was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of authors and has been honored many times for her work raising awareness about domestic violence and for her community service.
“I think Dorothea will forever be an icon in southern Lowcountry literature... She will be remembered as a beloved individual and her books will be remembered because of her voice,” Monroe added.
Frank’s passing came just days before her birthday. She would have turned 68 on Thursday, Sept. 12.