Portrait of author Gregory White Smith. Wikimedia Commons.
(1951- 2011) Smith was born in Ithaca, New York to William R. Smith and Kathryn White. Smith graduated from Colby College with an A. B. in English. He met his life partner Steven Naifeh when the two of them were studying law at Harvard University; each of them earned J.D. degrees, but neither of them decided to become practicing attorneys. Instead, both men opted to try their hand at writing books. What followed was a series of commercial titles, including such lifestyle guides as Moving Up in Style: The Successful Man’s Guide to Impeccable Taste (1980), What Every Client Needs to Know about Using a Lawyer (1982), and Why Can’t Men Open Up?: Overcoming Men’s Fear of Intimacy (1984). It was, however, a series of true-crime narratives that brought the writing duo their first serious critical attention. The first of three such books, The Mormon Murders (1988), chronicled a forgery plot that turned deadly. Critics praised the bestselling volume for its meticulous research, which became the hallmark of Naifeh and Smith’s compositional strategy.
In 1989 both men moved to Aiken, South Carolina. The challenges that they faced in rehabilitating the mansion, which had been empty for almost a decade, are recounted in the book On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye: A Restoration Comedy (1996). That same year marked the publication of their monumental biography of American artist Jackson Pollock.
It was careful research and psychological insight that Naifeh and Smith applied to true crime narratives that informs the biggest, most time-consuming project that the two men have tackled to date: the 953-page Van Gogh: The Life (2011). Just as they combed the prison journals of Danny Starrett to gain insight into his disturbed mind, they scoured the archives at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, perusing hundreds of unpublished Van Gogh family letters, to try to understand the exact nature of the artist’s troubled genius.
To date, however, Smith’s most personal book–and the one for which he gets top billing on the title page–is Making Miracles Happen (1997), which tells the story of his diagnosis, ten years earlier, of an inoperable brain tumor and his successful attempt to find a treatment to prolong his life and prove his physicians’ dire prognosis wrong.
In addition to writing their own books, Naifeh and Smith started their own publishing firm, Woodward-White, Inc., which has published the directory The Best Lawyers in America since 1982 and the medical information service The Best Doctors in America since 1989.