Shirley Suttles (Lesley Conger) | Passages

Shirley Suttles (Lesley Conger)

Shirley Suttles (Lesley Conger)
March 25, 1922 – Nov. 26, 2010

Shirley Suttles passed away peacefully on Friday, Nov. 26. She was 88.

Shirley Janet Smith was born March 25, 1922 in Seattle, the third child of Walker Conger Smith and Marie Beidel Smith. Her parents were both active in the labor movement. Her father was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the editor of several labor newspapers, and the author of “The Everett Massacre” and numerous IWW pamphlets and editorials. He died in 1927, when Shirley was only five years old, leaving Marie with Shirley and her older sisters to support as a worker in a dry-cleaning plant through the Great Depression. Walker’s writings and Marie’s cheerful and stoic determination had a strong influence on Shirley’s development and choice of career as a writer.

She graduated at the top of her class from Seattle’s Lincoln High School in 1939, and entered the University of Washington. As a major in anthropology, she met and married Wayne Suttles in 1941. They left Seattle for Berkeley, where he studied Japanese to serve in the Navy during World War II. Shirley graduated from the University of California, studied for a year at the New School for Social Research in New York, where she shared an apartment with a yet unpublished 19-year old African-American writer, James Baldwin, typing his manuscripts and submitting them to publishers. In 1946, after her husband returned from the Pacific, the couple reunited in Seattle where he did graduate work in anthropology.

Under the pen name, Lesley Conger, Shirley became a prolific writer of short stories which appeared in magazines from Cosmopolitan to Good Housekeeping to Playboy. While raising a family of seven children in Vancouver, B.C., she wrote plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio and television, read essays on CBC radio and published her first two books, “Love and Peanut Butter” and “Adventures of an Ordinary Mind.” In 1965, two years after the family moved to Reno, Nev., she began what became a 15-year career as “Off the Cuff” columnist for The Writer.

In 1966, the Suttles family moved to Portland, where Shirley wrote and published two children’s books, “Tops and Bottoms” and “Three Giant Stories.” In 1971, she published a collection of her columns in her book, “To Writers, With Love.” She taught writing classes and was a frequent speaker at Northwest writing conferences. While in Portland, Shirley became active at KBOO Community Radio and as a board member, literary manager and scriptwriter for The Storefront Theater.

In 1992, Shirley moved with her husband to Friday Harbor, Wash., where Wayne passed away in 2005. Shirley is survived by her sons, Duncan, Kuba, Malcolm, and Cameron and her daughters Polly Zagone, Jill Suttles and Robin Suttles; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

There will be no service.

— Family of Shirley Suttles