Greenfield, Amy Butler 1968–
Greenfield, Amy Butler 1968–
PERSONAL: Born 1968, in Philadelphia, PA; married. Education: Williams College (summa cum laude); studied at Oxford University, early 1990s.
AWARDS, HONORS: Marshall Scholar, Oxford University.
(As Amy Butler) Virginia Bound (children's fiction), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2003.
A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Amy Butler Greenfield is descended from a family of dyers and has been interested in the history of color for many years. In her first nonfiction book, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, the author writes about the red dye cochineal, a vivid, long-lasting, and valuable dye that became the object of intense rivalries beginning in the sixteenth century. In the volume, the author discusses why she wanted to write on the topic, commenting that "I knew … that someday I wanted to learn more about cochineal. It was amazing to me that something so precious could have been virtually forgotten by the modern world." The Spaniards first discovered the dye in 1519, when they invaded Mexico, where the cochineal insects from which it is made had been domesticated dating back to the pre-Columbian days. Greenfield reveals how the fashion rage for the color red made this a highly valued commodity that led to the Spaniards trying to keep its source a secret. However, both the English and the Dutch eventually discovered the source, smuggled insects for breeding, and even started largely unsuccessful plantations for breeding. Greenfield also writes about how the dye eventually fell out of favor as other colors became more popular and how its importance has since been reestablished as a safe food and cosmetic coloring agent.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a smart blend of science and culture." Lisa Klopfer, writing in Library Journal, pointed out that "Greenfield packs a dissertation's worth of history into her story without bogging down in the details." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer called the book an "intricate, fully researched and stylishly written history of Europe's centuries-long clamor for cochineal."
Greenfield told CA: "Writers can draw stories from any number of places: from dreams, newspaper reports, life crises, even other books. For me, the crucial source of inspiration is history, and that holds true whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction.
"Virginia Bound began with a dusty tome I read in graduate school that included a brief paragraph and footnote about a proclamation from England's King James, ordering that 'idle yonge people' be taken off the streets and shipped to Virginia to provide cheap labor for the new colony in the early 1600s. I had never heard of this before, and I wanted to know what happened to those 'yonge people,' but the scanty records from the time yielded few answers. Still, the thought of those children haunted me for a long time. Eventually I realized it would make a good starting point for a novel.
"A Perfect Red had its start in a research trip I made to Spain in the early 1990s, when I was writing a thesis about the introduction of chocolate to Europe. As part of my research, I traveled to Seville's great Archive of the Indies to examine the ancient registers of the Spanish fleets. Chocolate entries were scarce, but what I did see on page after page was grana, the Spanish word for cochineal. It soon became clear to me that a mountain of the dark red dyestuff had poured into Seville. I was fascinated that something that was once so precious had been forgotten by the modern world, and in time I decided to write a book about it. For most of human history, the color red was rare and precious, and researching and writing about that time made me see the world differently. I hope A Perfect Red will allow readers to see the color with new eyes, too."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Greenfield, Amy Butler, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, March 1, 2003, review of Virginia Bound.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of Virginia Bound; February 15, 2005, review of A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, p. 211.
Library Journal, April 1, 2005, Lisa Klopfer, review of A Perfect Red, p. 108.
Publishers Weekly, March 14, 2005, review of A Perfect Red, p. 55.
Amy Butler Greenfield Home Page, http://www.amybutlergreenfield.com (June 27, 2005).