Robert C. O'Brien (author)

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Robert C. O'Brien
Born Robert Leslie Conly
(1918-01-11)January 11, 1918
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died March 5, 1973(1973-03-05) (aged 55)
Washington, D.C., USA
Pen name Robert C. O'Brien
Occupation Writer, Author, Journalist
Nationality American
Education Bachelor of Arts in English
Alma mater University of Rochester
Period 1968–73
Genre Children's literature, Fantasy
Notable works Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Z for Zachariah
Notable awards Newbery Medal for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Spouse Sally McCaslin (1943–1973)

Robert Leslie Conly (January 11, 1918 – March 5, 1973) (better known by his pen name, Robert C. O'Brien) was an American author and journalist for National Geographic Magazine.

Early life[edit]

Conly was the third of five children from a wealthy Irish-Catholic family. With interests in music and literature, Conly entered Williams College in 1935 but left in his second year. He then went through a period that he referred to as his "breakdown", briefly working in Albany, New York before going back to his family in disgrace. Although he later studied for a time at Juilliard, he went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Rochester in 1940.[1]



After graduating from university, Conly had a brief stint in an advertising agency then began working for Newsweek. He was protected from conscription during World War II by being listed as 4-F due to physical and mental ailments. He then covered national and city news for the Washington Times-Herald beginning in 1944 and later the Pathfinder, a news magazine. In 1951, he began working as an editor and writer for National Geographic, a job which was to take him around the world.[1]

Fiction writer[edit]

In the 1960s Conly developed glaucoma. Because he could no longer drive to work, he and his family moved in 1963 from Virginia closer to his office in Washington DC. In the time he saved from not having to commute, he began to write children's stories.[1] Conly is best known for writing novels under the "O'Brien" pen name, which he used to avoid conflict with his work with National Geographic. His first books were the children's stories The Silver Crown (1968) and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971). The latter work won the Newbery Medal in 1972. According to Sally Conly, his last two novels, A Report from Group 17 (1972) and Z for Zachariah (1974), were intended for adults.[2] After the author's death in 1973, his wife Sally and daughter Jane finished the latter novel using his notes so it could be published posthumously.[1][3] Z for Zachariah received a 1976 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America. Jane Conly later published two sequels to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Racso and the Rats of NIMH (1986) and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (1990).

Personal life[edit]

Robert Conly married Sally McCaslin in 1943. The couple had four children, three daughters and a son. The marriage lasted until his death from a heart attack thirty years later in 1973. Mrs. Conly has written about her husband using the name Sally O'Brien.[1]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e O'Brien, Sally M. "Biographical Sketch of Robert Leslie Conly." Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, PP. 276–278. ISBN 978-0-8242-0568-3. New York: HW Wilson, 1978. Masis, Boris. "What has been said about Robert C. O'Brien". The Z for Zachariah Nuclear Comparison Page. 1997.
  2. ^ O'Brien, Sally M. "About Robert C. O'Brien". The Horn Book Magazine (1972): 349–351. Masis, Boris. "What has been said about Robert C. O'Brien". The Z for Zachariah Nuclear Comparison Page. 1997.>
  3. ^ O'Brien, Robert C. About the Author. Z for Zachariah. 1974. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007.

External links[edit]