Mystery Writers of America (MWA)

Making "Crime" Pay for Mystery Writers

The Edgar Award statue, coveted by mystery writers
The Edgar® Award statue--awarded by MWA, coveted by mystery writers. Matthew Peyton / Getty Images Entertainment

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to those who write mysteries and/or about crime in any form (for example, books, short stories, plays, and screenplays). Membership also includes other professionals who support the genre (publishers, literary agents, booksellers, librarians, etc). Mystery Writers of America also provides an “Affiliate” membership category for those who are aspiring to write for the genre or who are avid fans.

About Mystery Writers of America

The stated mission of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is to promote “higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre,” and its slogan is “Crime does not pay—enough.”

MWA History

Founded in 1945 by a group of mystery writers looking to get more respect—and better royalties—earliest MWA members included Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of fictional lawyer/detective Perry Mason), Fred Dannay and Manfred Lee (co-creators of Ellery Queen, their fictional detective as well as their pseudonym), Rex Stout (creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries), and Dorothy B. Hughes (author of fourteen hard-boiled crime and noir books, most notably of Ride the Pink Horse).

The official newsletter of Mystery Writers of America was given the name “The Third Degree” by its first editor, Clayton Rawson.

From the outset, the MWA concerned itself with addressing perceived unfair practices in their publishing contracts and getting a fair share of royalties and subsidiary rights.

Early on, in the organization’s mission, the members embarked on creative attention-getting and fundraising efforts, including an annual mystery anthology book series and the Edgar® Awards, both launched in 1946.

Mystery Writers of America Today

Mystery Writers of America’s eleven regional chapters continue to educate its members as to their rights and interests and to spearhead activities that further appreciation of mystery and crime writing.

MWA’s focuses include legislation and judicial decisions that affect the rights of authors and an eye on rapidly changing publishing industry practices and resulting effect on writers and authors livelihoods.

Importantly, Mystery Writers of America has acted as an archivist and historian for the American mystery. While housing a robust selection of mystery reference materials at its New York City headquarters in the Anthony Boucher Memorial Reference Library, much of the MWA’s archives are now housed in the Mugar Library of Boston University as part of the 20th Century Special Collection.

To those ends, MWA provides scholarships for writers, sponsors MWA: Reads (their youth literacy program, formerly known as Kids Love A Mystery), and sponsors relevant conferences. The and present the prestigious Edgar® Awards each April at a banquet dinner in New York City.

About the Edgar® Awards and Other MWA Honors

The Edgar® Awards are bestowed each year by the Mystery Writers of America organization to recognize writing achievements in the literary genre of mystery and crime, as well as achievements outside of the scope of writing that support the mystery genre, such as publishing or bookselling.

The Edgar® Awards were established shortly after the founding of the Mystery Writers of America organization to help bring attention and prestige to the field of mystery writing. Named after Edgar Allan Poe, “the father of the detective story,” the award statuette (given out since the third year of the awards) is a likeness of the writer, as well.

In 1946, the first Edgar® Awards were given for Best First Novel, Best Motion Picture, Best Radio Drama, and Outstanding Mystery Criticism. Over the years, Mystery Writers of America added awards, including for Best Play (1950), Best Short Story (1951), Best Television Episode (1952), and Best Radio Drama (1960).

The first Edgar® Awards Dinner took place in New York City and, although the venue has changed several times, the gala event is still today held in Manhattan.

The Edgar® Awards Categories

At the Edgar® Awards Dinner, the MWA announces the winners from the roster of finalists in the following categories:

  • Best Novel - only hardbound novels are considered.
  • Best First Novel - must be a mystery by an American author.
  • Best Paperback Original - paperback first novels are not eligible for this category and must be submitted under Best First Novel.
  • Best Fact Crime - non-fiction.
  • Best Critical/Biographical - regarding works or authors in the literary genre.
  • Best Short Story - works up to 22,000 words from magazines, periodicals, book-length anthologies and websites.
  • Best Juvenile Mystery - for ages 5 - 11.
  • Best Young Adult Mystery - for ages 12 -18.
  • Best Play - all full-length plays produced professionally on Broadway, off Broadway, or through the League of Regional Theatres are eligible.
  • Best Television Series Episode Teleplay - that has aired.
  • Mary Higgins Clark Award - is selected by a Special Mystery Writers of America Committee "for the book most closely written in the Mary Higgins Clark Tradition." The guidelines for the Mary Higgins Clark Award were established by the author herself. The Mary Higgins Clark Award is given during the MWA's Authors and Agents cocktail party, generally the night before the Edgar Awards. Read more about the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

In addition to the awards named above, special award recipients are announced in advance of the dinner:

The Raven Award

Named for the Poe poem, MWA’s Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. Past recipients of the Raven Award have included mystery bookseller and publisher Otto Penzler, as well as “First Readers,” Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

Grand Master of the Edgar® Awards

According to Mystery Writers of America, the Grand Master Award “represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to the genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.”

The Grand Master Award bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America's honors the exceptional of achievement in the career of mystery writing. The annual Grand Master Award was established to acknowledge important contributions to the mystery genre, as well as the recipient’s body of mystery writing work as both significant in the field, and of consistently high quality. Traditionally, the Grand Master gives a speech at the Edgar® Awards Dinner.

The History of the MWA's Grand Master Award

The Grand Master Award was established in 1954 and first bestowed in 1955, upon Dame Agatha Christie, the prolific and ubiquitous mystery novelist who simultaneously won the Edgar Award that year for Best Play for Witness for the Prosecution. For a number of years after that, the Grand Master Award was given irregularly, as deemed appropriate, and some years it was not awarded to anyone. Since 1978, the Grand Master Award has been given annually.

On several occasions, the Grand Master Award has been given to more than one person in the same year. In 1973, the award was given to two people, author Judson Philips and the great mystery film director, television producer, progenitor of mystery magazines and book series, and all around master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. In 1978, the Grand Master was awarded to three people, authors Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Daphne DuMaurier. Once again in 2009 two authors shared the award; they were James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton.

The Grand Master Award Today

Though tradition has changed over the years, MWA convention now dictates that the recipient of the Grand Master Award is announced in November of each year (along with the recipients of the Mystery Writers of America’s Ellery Queen and Raven Awards). The Grand Master is then honored at following April’s Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, where he or she gives a speech. (While the Grand Master, Ellery Queen and Raven Award winners are already known, the year’s Edgar Award winners are announced for the first time at the banquet).​

The MWA's Roster of Grand Masters

Following is a list of the mystery writers who have received the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award since it was instituted.

1955 - Agatha Christie (read Dame Agatha's advice to writers)

1958 - Vincent Starrett

1959 - Rex Stout

1961 - Ellery Queen
Ellery Queen is the pen name of—as well as the fictional character created by—the writing team of cousins, Frederic Dannay (born Daniel Nathan) and Manfred Bennington Lee.

1962 - Erle Stanley Gardner

1963 - John Dickson Carr

1964 - George Harmon Coxe

1966 - Georges Simenon

1967 - Baynard Kendrick

1969 - John Creasey

1970 - James M. Cain

1971 - Mignon C. Eberhart

1972 - John D. MacDonald

1973 - Alfred Hitchcock and

1973 - Judson Philips

1974 - Ross Macdonald
Ross Macdonald is the nom de plume of Kenneth Millar.

1975 - Eric Ambler

1976 - Graham Greene

1978 - Daphne DuMaurier and

1978 - Dorothy Hughes and

1978 - Ngaio Marsh

1979 - Aaron Marc Stein

1980 - W. R. Burnett

1981 - Stanley Ellin

1982 - Julian Symons

1983 - Margaret Millar

1984 - John Le Carre

1985 - Dorothy Salisbury Davis

1986 - Ed McBain

1987 - Michael Gilbert

1988 - Phyllis A. Whitney

1989 - Hillary Waugh

1990 - Helen McCloy

1991 - Tony Hillerman

1992 - Elmore Leonard

1993 - Donald E. Westlake

1994 - Lawrence Block

1995 - Mickey Spillane

1996 - Dick Francis

1997 - Ruth Rendell

1998 - Barbara Mertz
Barbara Mertz is the real name of the author whose writings are under the pen names of Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.

1999 - P. D. James

2000 - Mary Higgins Clark

2001 - Edward D. Hoch

2002 - Robert B. Parker

2003 - Ira Levin

2004 - Joseph Wambaugh

2005 - Marcia Muller

2006 - Stuart M. Kaminsky

2007 - Stephen King

2008 - Bill Pronzini

2009 - James Lee Burke and

2009 - Sue Grafton

2010 - Dorothy Gilman

2011 - Sara Paretsky

2012 - Martha Grimes

2013 - Ken Follett and Margaret Maron

2014 - Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais

2015 - Lois Duncan and James Ellroy