Esteemed children’s book author Rosa Guy died on Sunday, June 3, of cancer, at her New York City home. She was 89.
Guy was best known for her candid books about the often tough experiences of African-American teenagers coming of age, though critics roundly praised her for work for addressing themes that had universal appeal. Among her popular titles was The Friends (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973) which tells the story of two classmates—one an immigrant girl from the West Indies and the other a poor, tough girl from Harlem. The Friends, and two sequels that formed a trilogy—Ruby (Viking, 1976) and Edith Jackson (Viking, 1978) were all chosen as Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
In addition to her canon of books for young people, Guy also penned works for adults, including her first book Bird at My Window (Lippincott, 1966) and the novel My Love, My Love: or, The Peasant Girl (Holt 1985), which was a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid with a Caribbean setting and was adapted as a Broadway musical—Once on This Island—that opened in 1990.
Guy was born in Trinidad in the early 1920s (a New York Times report lists the year as 1922, though several biographical resources give the date as 1925) and immigrated to the United States with her sister when she was seven years old. They were reunited with their parents who had made the move ahead of them. Guy had a frequently difficult childhood in New York City, losing both parents by the age of 14.
She married Warner Guy in 1941, and the couple had a son, Warner Jr., in 1942 (he died in 1995). The marriage ended in divorce several years later. During this time Guy had been working at a factory in the garment district and had studied acting at the American Negro Theater. She continued to pursue the arts as a form of expression and also began writing. In 1950 Guy was a founder of the Harlem Writers Guild with John Oliver Killens, Willard Moore and other scholars and activists. She wrote short stories and a one-act play, Venetian Blinds, prior to her debut as a novelist.