Best-selling author Belva Plain dies at 95

TRENTON, N.J. — Belva Plain wrote more than 20 best-selling novels over several decades, an achievement she began working toward only after her children grew up and she became a grandmother.

When she died in her sleep Oct. 12 at her home in New Jersey at age 95, more than 28 million copies of her books were in print.

Her first novel, “Evergreen,” was published in 1978 and spent more than 40 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, and it was developed into a popular TV miniseries.

She wrote, in longhand on a yellow pad, epic novels of family and forgiveness that were adored by her fans but often received less than enthusiastic reviews from critics.

Writing had always been a passion for the New York City native, an only child who graduated with a history degree from Barnard College. She spent her childhood summers amid the bucolic comfort of the family’s home in New Canaan, Conn., where she learned to milk cows and frolicked with her dog, an Irish setter named Barry.

“She was really a county girl at heart,” said her daughter, Barbara.

As a teenager, she enjoyed writing poetry and as a young woman wrote short stories for many major magazines.

But her plans to write a novel were put on hold when, at a dinner party, she met Irving Plain, an aspiring doctor who became a prominent ophthalmologist. They married in 1939 and soon had three children, and the family settled in South Orange.

Plain decided to devote herself to her family, putting their needs ahead of her writing.

She didn’t have the time to write a novel, she said, but later in life she realized that she was making excuses, saying in retrospect that “I didn’t make the time.”

“Evergreen” followed the saga of a young girl who trades the desperate squalor of rural Poland for the teeming slums of New York, where she is torn between the love and ambitions of two men.

She recently completed work on “Heartland,” a sequel to “Evergreen” due to be published in February.

“Belva’s stories spoke to the hearts and lives of millions of readers for decades,” said Shauna Summers, senior editor of Ballantine Bantam Dell, Random House, which published Plain’s works. She told The Star-Ledger of Newark that Plain “wrote about family and friendship — the things that matter most.”

Besides her children, Plain is also survived by six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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