Born 1 September 1925, Trinidad, West Indies
Daughter of Henry and Audrey Gonzales Cuthbert; married Warner Guy, 1941; children: Warner
A powerful writer who makes delight out of difficulties in life, Rosa Guy has written numerous insightful children's books. She is a native of Trinidad who left the island as a child with her sister to join their parents in Harlem. The adjustment from island life to city life was difficult for them. Although black and of African Caribbean culture, Guy found herself set apart by black and white children because of her West Indian dialect and customs. When her mother became ill shortly after her arrival, Guy was sent to the Bronx to stay with cousins. Here she was introduced to Marcus Garvey's fervent views extolling the dignity of all blacks and his belief in black nationalism, themes that proved to be major forces stimulating Guy intellectually and politically.
The premature deaths of their parents left Guy and her sister orphans. Experiences in a series of institutions and foster homes intensified her feeling of being an outsider. By fourteen Guy had dropped out of school and had become a factory worker. At sixteen she married Warner Guy.
In searching for ways to enrich her life and to express her creativity, Guy found herself drawn to the American Negro Theater, then to the Committee for the Negro in the Arts. Experiences with the latter group led Guy to write and to become a cofounder of the Harlem Writers Guild. Affiliation with the guild deepened Guy's commitment to black affairs by giving her the opportunity to meet and work with influential members of the community.
Guy's response to the waste of bright minds being "channeled into a life of crime and self-destruction by the crushing confinement of prejudice and poverty" inspired her first book, Bird at My Window (1966). Then, wanting to know how the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the turmoil of the 1960s affected Southern black children, Guy collected taped interviews and essays that became Children of Longing (1971). This work, cited as bringing together Guy's activism and writing interests, advanced her writing skills to a new level.
Guy's theme of trying to find one's place in a hostile environment while struggling for self-identity and self-affirmation arises from her early childhood and adolescent experiences. Her forte is her compassionate ability to portray the adversity ghetto children face. In her acclaimed trilogy The Friends (1973), Ruby (1976), and Edith Jackson (1978), Guy insightfully presents the lives of three adolescents as they mature fighting the odds in a deteriorating community.
The Disappearance (1979), which won Guy the American Library Association award for best book for young adults, and its sequels, New Guys Around the Block (1983) and And I Heard a Bird Sing (1987), complete a second trilogy, each with a mystery involved. The protagonist, Imamu Jones, is a young man determined to vindicate himself and escape the hopelessness of a now-corrupt Harlem.
In her first picture book, Guy translated the Senegalese folktale Mother Crocodile (1981), successfully dipping into the richness of African folklore. She has also written two juvenile books, Paris, Pee Wee, and Big Dog (1985) and The Ups and Downs of Carl Davis III (1979), which confirm the need for parental acceptance.
Guy's tightest and most poignant story, however, is one written for a general readership, My Love, My Love; or, The Pheasant Girl: A Fable (1985). In this short tale, Guy expresses all the mystique of her West Indian heritage while carefully showing the impenetrable barriers of color and caste. This book was the basis for a musical by Lynn Ahrens, Once on This Island, which opened in New York in 1990. Guy's ventures into African tradition, which flow with a special warmth and seamlessness, add a new depth and dimension to her writing. In 1999 the musical was performed at the Cab Calloway School of Performing Arts in Wilmington, Delaware, as a tribute to the legendary entertainer.
Guy published The Sun, the Sea, a Touch of the Wind (1995) in the year of her seventieth birthday, and most of her early books are regularly published in paperback or reprinted. Her acute sensitivity to issues faced by inner-city children has made her a timeless and successful young-adult author who gives hope and books to a readership too frequently overlooked.
Venetian Blinds (1954). Mirror of Her Own (1981). A Measure of Time (1983). Billy the Great (1991). The Music of Summer (1992).
Norris, J., Presenting Rosa Guy (1988).
Black American Fiction: A Biography (1978). Black American Writers Past and Present (1975). Black Writers 2. CA 17-20R. CANR 14, 34. Children's Literature Review (1999). CLC (1983). DLB 33. Feminist Companion (1990). SATA 14, 62.
Essence (Oct. 1979). Horn Book (Mar./ Apr. 1985). NYTM (16 Apr. 1972). Top of the News (Winter 1983).
AND ELIZABETH COONROD MARTINEZ