Eloise Greenfield, an African American literary giant best known for gentle, thoughtful and colorful books for children and biographies, all tinged with positive images of Black people, died Aug. 4 in Washington, after a stroke. She was 92.
A native of Parmele, N.C., she grew up in the Langston Terrace public housing development in Northeast D.C., graduated from Cardozo High School and attended Miners’ Teachers’ College with a goal of being a teacher.
Unable to overcome her shyness after realizing she would need to be observed by instructors during her student teaching assignments, Greenfield chose to leave college after two years.
While working as a clerk typist at the U.S. Patent Office in 1949, she turned to writing books for children.
After her submissions were widely rejected by the mainstream media, she found a willing publisher in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s Drum and Spear Press and, with her first book, Bubbles, began a literary career that included a body of work that dominated the world of books for children.
“It’s important to get children reading at a young age and I think it would be good if parents scheduled a regular reading time for their children while they’re away from school,” she told the Informer in March 2020.
“I hope that the books selected for them to read are books that will interest that particular child, because parents will then know their [children’s] tastes and interests,” she added. “It’s also a good idea to select books that children may not have expressed interest in.”
Of the 50 books she authored, she is best known for “Honey, I Love  and Other Love Poems,” a celebration of family and the importance of loving oneself. In her later years, despite declining sight and hearing, she penned a picture book in 2019, “The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives.”
Although she received awards for her biographies of  20th century renaissance man Paul Robeson and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, her approach to illustrated books for children and her self-effacing nature established her as a literary leader, according to other African American authors.
“The way she revolutionized childrens’ literature was with a single focus on the many splendors of love and Black love in particular,” said Caroline Brewer, a successful children’s book author, who lives in the District.  In Greenfield’s prose, she said, “you feel so much love. You feel her speaking lovingly and playfully and thoughtfully.
“She wanted to celebrate blackness. She wanted children to look into her books and  for those books to be a mirror  of who they were as beautiful, Black, brilliant people.” The value was in producing books that addressed the world in a unique way, she said.
Her body of work includes “The Great Migration,” a picture book for children that chronicles the movement of Black people in the United States from the South to the North and the History of Black Women, a narrative of the role of Black women in shaping U.S. history.
But she was also humble, Brewer said, noting that when she, as head of a small collective of Black writers, sought Greenfield as a speaker, the then-literary lion addressed her group without charge.
She also appeared in a rap video.
The mother of two children, her marriage to Robert Greenfield ended in divorce.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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