Eloise Greenfield's Lifelong Love of Words Inspires Young African-American Readers
Dorothy Rowley | 3/19/2014, 3 p.m.
When it comes to writing, Eloise Greenfield likes to take that slow magical ride into the world of imagination and creativity.
Along the way, she likes to envision and mold her characters that come to life – each with their own distinct personalities and purpose.
“My characters never talk to me or even turn to look at me, but they know that I am in their world, watching them,” said Greenfield, 85. “I’ve loved to read all my life, and as for my love affair with words, I give the credit to my parents because they read to us all the time.”
Reminiscing about a career that has spanned more than four decades, Greenfield, the mother of two children and four grandchildren, said it all began on a whim.
“At the time, I worked as a typist and was just writing for fun,” she said. “Then one day, I saw this TV show where they asked people to submit original songs. Well, I sent them some of my lyrics, and soon after that, the show went off the air,” the Northeast resident said, with a hearty chuckle. “I like to joke that they went off the air after pouring over the songs I’d written.”
Determined to turn her pastime into a profession, Greenfield continued to write.
“It took several years to get my work published,” said Greenfield, who eventually joined the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent and African-American Writers Guild. “I had to come to the realization that it’s more than just talent – you have to study the craft and combine the two. I had a lot of rejections early on because I thought all it took was talent.”
In 1962 at age 33, Greenfield, who always had an affinity for string instruments, had her first work, a poem titled, “To a Violin,” published by the Hartford Times newspaper in Connecticut.
She wasn’t paid for the poem and didn’t care. She just wanted to get her name out in literary circles.
Throughout the 1960s, Greenfield had several pieces of her work – which included articles and short stories – published.
However, in 1971 as a member of the D.C. Black Writers workshop, Greenfield discovered during a session that there weren’t many books geared toward black children.
“Then and there, I decided to make that my mission,” said Greenfield. “I wanted my books to enable black children to realize how beautiful and smart they are. I wanted to write books that inspired and uplifted them, that made them laugh and be happy.”
Greenfield’s first children’s book, “Bubbles,” tells the story of a child who had just learned to read his first three words. But she said the book didn’t fare well initially. She received 10 rejection letters before Drum and Spear, a black publishing house in Washington, D.C. finally took on the project and published the book in 1972.
“As a child, I remember the book because I cried a lot when it got lost,” said Sandra Jeffries, 48, a D.C. native who now lives in Northern Virginia.