...Ms. Neely also published short stories, starting with “Passing the Word” in Essence magazine in 1981. She began writing full time, she once said, after winning money in a lawsuit when one of her stories was adapted into a play without her
Inspired to pursue literature by the works of fellow black authors like Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley, best known for his Easy Rawlins detective novels, Ms. Neely later studied creative writing and received a master’s degree from the
University of Massachusetts.
“She paved the way for us,” Kellye Garrett, another black female mystery writer, said in a phone interview. “There was a time that publishers finally realized that books by and about black people would be read by the masses.
“They were looking for a book by a black woman about a black woman,” Ms. Garrett added. “As she said to me once, they figured: ‘Well, we’ve got Walter Mosley. It’s almost like we’ve got Fred Astaire, let’s see if we can find Ginger Rogers.