Born 6 December 1905, Buffalo, New York
Daughter of Harry and Mary Duffy Yates; married William McGreal, 1929 (died 1963)
Long summers on her father's farm south of Buffalo were the most memorable days of Elizabeth Yates' childhood and youth. After graduation from high school, she worked in New York City for three years, writing as much as possible. In 1929 she moved with her husband to London, where she continued her apprentice work, writing articles, book reviews, and short stories. Her first book was published in England in 1938. Because of her husband's failing eyesight, the couple returned to the U.S. in 1939, bought a small farm in New Hampshire, restored a century-old farmhouse, and created a new life focused around her writing, his work for the blind, and the fields and woodlands they both enjoyed. Yates' The Lighted Heart (1960) tells of this part of her life. Although her husband died in 1963, she has continued to live in New Hampshire, the setting of many of her works. She has been a staff member at writers' conferences and has received several honorary degrees as well as the Sarah Josepha Hale Award (1970) for a "distinguished author whose work and life reflect the literary tradition of New England." In Patterns on the Wall (1943), which received the New York Herald Tribune Spring Festival Award, a kind-hearted itinerant painter who decorates rooms with stenciled designs is held responsible for the severe weather of 1816 and tried for witchcraft. In Hue and Cry (1953, reprinted 1991), the same painter-farmer risks position and property 20 years later to befriend a disillusioned immigrant youth who has stolen a valuable horse.
Mountain Born (1943), a Newbery honor book, and A Place for Peter (1952, latest reissue 1994), a Boys' Clubs of America gold medal winner, depict the quiet, pastoral life on a sheep farm. The earlier book presents a detailed picture of the shepherd's life; the latter shows other farm activities, such as clearing brush and making maple syrup, and explores a growing boy's relationship with his father.
Amos Fortune, Free Man (1950, reissue 1989), the fictionalized biography of an obscure man of great strength and dignity, won the Newbery Medal in 1951 and the William Allen White Award in 1953. Born the son of a king in Africa, Fortune lived as a slave in Massachusetts until he was able to buy his freedom at the age of sixty. After purchasing the freedom of other slaves, including his wife and her daughter, he moved to New Hampshire, where he operated a tannery for 20 years and became a respected member of the community.
Carolina's Courage (1964, 1989) records the adventures of a small girl during the long trip by covered wagon from New Hampshire to Nebraska Territory. After she gives her doll, her only personal possession, to a Native American girl, the settlers receive a friendly welcome to the territory. Sarah Whitcher's Story (1971) is based on a published account of a little girl, lost in the woods, who was befriended by a black bear. Rainbow Round the World (1954), an interpretation of the work of UNICEF, won the Jane Addams Award for promotion of peace and world community. In Someday You'll Write (1962), Yates advises young people about practicing the writer's craft.
In her adult fiction, Yates writes about social and racial prejudice, emotional illness, and attempted suicide, but the books are suffused with an atmosphere of serenity, hope, and idealism rare in contemporary literature. Problems are resolved through the help of an understanding friend, through inspiration drawn from secular or religious literature, or through communion with nature. Yates has also written biographies of the writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Howard Thurman, and Prudence Crandall, a courageous young woman who, in 1833, established a school for black girls in Canterbury, Connecticut. The latter was written for children.
Yates' writings are characterized by a faith in the nobility of people, love of nature and all creatures, family affection, religious belief, and detailed descriptions of crafts and occupations. Although she has written fiction and nonfiction for both children and adults, she is best known for her award-winning juvenile books. Though in her nineties, Yates has continued to write throughout the last decade of the century. Her recent book, Open the Door: A Gathering of Poems and Prose Pieces was published in 1999. Additionally, Yates was honored with an "Ageless Heroes" plaque from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Hampshire in March 1999 for her continuing creativity and "vitality." A proponent of community involvement, Yates has served on the Board of New Hampshire Association for the Blind for 25 years, and as a trustee of the Peterborough Town Library for 22 years. She still makes appearances in schools, and has donated 40 acres of land and her home in Peterborough for the creation of the Shieling Forest Learning Center.
Gathered Grace (1938). High Holiday (1938). Climbing Higher (1939). Hans and Frieda (1939). Haven for the Brave (1941). Around the Year in Iceland (1942). Under the Little Fir (1942). Wind of Spring (1945). Nearby (1947). Once in the Year (1947). Beloved Bondage (1948). The Young Traveller in the U.S.A. (1948). Children of the Bible (1950). Guardian Heart (1950). Brave Interval (1952). David Livingstone (1953). Prudence Crandall, Woman of Courage (1955, 1996). The Carey Girl (1956). Pebble in a Pool: The Widening Circles of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Life (1958; reissued as The Lady from Vermont, 1971). The Next Fine Day (1962, 1994). Sam's Secret Journal (1964). Howard Thurman: Portrait of a Practical Dreamer (1964). Up the Golden Stair: An Approach to a Deeper Understanding of Life Through Personal Sorrow (1966, 1990). Is There a Doctor in the Barn? A Day in the Life of Forrest F. Tenney, D.V.M. (1966, 1994). An Easter Story (1967). With Paddle, Pipe, and Song: A Story of the French-Canadian Voyageurs (1968, 1998). New Hampshire (1969). On that Night (1969). The Road Through Sandwich Notch (1973). Skeezer, Dog with a Mission (1973). We, the People (1974). A Book of Hours (1976, 1989). Call It Zest (1977). My Diary—My World (1981). My Widening World (1983). One Writer's Way (1984). The Journeyman (1990). Sound Friendships: The Story of Willa and Her Hearing Ear Dog (1992). A Place for Peter (1996). Spanning Time: A Diary Keeper Becomes a Writer (1996). Swiss Holiday (1996). Iceland Adventure (1997).
Arbuthnot, M. H., and Z. Sutherland, Children and Books (1972). Greenberg, M. H. and Waugh, C., eds., A Newbery Christmas: Fourteen Stories of Christmas by Newbery Award-Winning Authors (1998). Hoffman, M., and E. Samuels, eds., Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books (1972). MacCann, D., and G. Woodward, The Black American in Booksfor Children (1972). Vaughn, R., Elizabeth Yates' On That Night: Stageplay (1978).
Junior Book of Authors (1951). Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955 (1955). SATA (1973).
Meet the Newbery Author: Elizabeth Yates McGreal (filmstrip, Miller-Brody Productions, 1976).
—ALICE BELL SALO