WASHINGTON — She came along in 1930 when girls needed a new kind of heroine, a perfectly groomed teenage sleuth at the wheel of a blue roadster -- unflappable and brave in the face of a modern world full of dangers and mysteries.
Seventy-five years later, befitting her good bones and sterling character, Nancy Drew wears her age lightly. Dressed casually in slacks these days, she drives a hybrid and carries a cellphone. And at this point, practically a genre unto herself, she tells her own stories.
"Let me fill you in," she confides to a new generation of girls, who like their mothers and grandmothers before them are reading Nancy Drew.
"She speaks in the first person," said Ann L. Hudak, an assistant curator at the University of Maryland library, standing amid a new exhibit she organized at Hornbake Library on the College Park campus. "Nancy Drew and Friends: Girls' Series Books Rediscovered" runs through the end of the year.
Although once spurned by scholars and librarians as mere popular fiction, Nancy Drew mysteries are now receiving serious analysis in journals and at academic conferences, said University of Maryland librarian Eric Lindquist, who has organized a symposium at the library Friday.
"Literally millions of people have read Nancy Drew," he said. The symposium, "Reading Nancy Drew," is expected to draw academics and authors together to discuss the character's place in the history of publishing, literature and women's lives.
"She was banned from many libraries," Lindquist said. But with a smile for the girl detective, he added, her books have come "in the back door."
Nancy Drew has sold 80 million books over the years -- and in recent times, graphic novels and computer games as well.