Award-winning journalist, poet, and rising children’s book author Gail Shepherd died of complications from a brain tumor on February 24 in Lake Worth, Fla. She was 62.
Shepherd was born July 19, 1957 and grew up in Philadelphia. She graduated from the University of Florida with an M.A. in poetry and received an MFA, also in poetry, from the same institution. After her studies, she taught creative writing for a short time at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Upon returning to Florida, she earned much acclaim for her writing, wearing a variety of hats as a restaurant columnist for alternative news New Times in Palm Beach County, an investigative journalist for the Palm Beach Free Press, a poet, and a children’s novelist. According to a family obituary, Shepherd and her brother published a local biweekly Florida newspaper, Red Herring, in the 1990s, in which she recently told PW they provided “snarky, down and dirty coverage of local politicians.”
As a poet, Shepherd was named runner-up for the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize two years in a row. Her food writing and long-form profiles and investigative pieces received accolades from the James Beard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Food Journalists, and other organizations.
Her debut middle grade novel, The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins was published by Penguin/Kathy Dawson Books in 2019. The book received four starred reviews from professional journals and was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2019, a distinction given to notable debut authors and illustrators.
In her Flying Start interview, Shepherd told PW that she had worked on The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins for nearly eight years, while she simultaneously worked for a K–12 educational company. Last March, she retired from that position to write full-time. Most recently, she was working on a historical novel set in a mill town in 1936 Florida.
Shepherd’s editor, Kathy Dawson, shared this remembrance: “Gail was always learning, always fighting the good fight, and was so caring and smart. She worked harder on her novel than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with, and it resulted in an amazing book.”