Harriette Gillem Robinet Biography

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Harriette Gillem Robinet Biography

Harriette Gillem Robinet’s grandfather was Robert E. Lee’s slave until the age of thirteen. When Robinet was a young child, her father would sit on the porch in the summer and tell her stories and encourage her to write every day. Those early experiences indelibly shaped Robinet’s later work. After her fifth child was born with cerebral palsy, Robinet realized that there were no books that he could relate to as an African American child with a disability, so she began writing some. Her first book was Jay and the Marigold in 1976, which she followed with Ride the Red Cycle in 1980. Not an author to be pigeonholed, Robinet also writes historical fiction.

Facts and Trivia

  • Robinet has a unique method for creating characters. She uses a personality chart with sixteen separate traits to make her characters real.
  • Robinet worked as a microbiologist until the birth of her first child. She then wrote articles for several different journals while at home with her children.
  • African Americans were not welcome in public libraries in Virginia and Washington, D.C., where Robinet grew up. She got a library card at the age of thirteen and remembers being followed through the library by suspicious staff members.
  • Robinet’s husband was the first editor of many of her books.
  • Robinet’s advice to budding writers is to always keep a journal handy and write as often as possible.

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born July 4,1931, in Washington, D.C., to teachers Richard Avitus and Martha Gray, Harriette Gillem Robinet became familiar with slavery during her childhood summers in Arlington, Virginia. Her maternal grandfather served as a slave under General Robert E. Lee until age thirteen, while her father's family served as slaves to Jesuit priests in Maryland. This childhood experience paved the way for the author's interest in slavery and historical fiction.

In 1953, Robinet graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the College of New Rochelle in New York. The author then earned her master of science (1957) and doctorate (1963) degrees in microbiology from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. From 1953-1954, Robinet worked in Children's Hospital, Washington, D.C., as a bacteriologist before serving at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as a medical bacteriologist and as a research bacteriologist. Later, she worked as a biology instructor at Xavier University, New Orleans, Louisiana, and as a civilian food bacteriologist for the United States Army Quartermaster Corps.

In August 6, 1960, the author married McLouis Joseph Robinet (pronounced robi-nay), a health physicist. The couple raised six children: Stephen, Philip, Rita, Jonathan, Marsha, and Linda, including one son with cerebral palsy.

Influenced by her family's slavery and her disabled son's challenges, Robinet began writing books about children's struggles and victories over physical and emotional difficulties. Her first book, Jay and the Marigold, describes an eight-year-old boy who, like her son, deals with cerebral palsy. The author's second book, Ride the Red Cycle, portrays a disabled child seeking individuality and self-respect.

According to the biography on Robinet's Web site, she believes history gives perspective on life today. She also suggests that historians have deliberately changed or ignored the stories of African Americans. To combat this, Robinet writes historical fiction, portraying amiable children and adults with their needs and struggles, during pivotal times in American history.

Four of the author's books have received the Notable Social Studies Books for Young Children Award from the National Council for the Social Studies. Children of the Fire won an award in 1991 from the Friends of American Writers; Washington City Is Burning won the 1997 Carl Sandburg Award; and The Twins, the Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans won the 1998 Midland Authors Award. The author received the Society of Midland Authors Award for Children's Literature in 1998....

(The entire section is 3,672 words.)