Joanne Greenberg Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joanne Greenberg’s novels and short stories made her an important voice for those members of American society who have become alienated because of an illness, weakness, or obsession that makes it difficult for them to communicate with the mainstream culture. She was born Joanne Goldenberg to Julius Lester Goldenberg and Rosalie (Bernstein) Goldenberg. Although she came from a Jewish background and has drawn on that background and heritage in some of her writing, she received almost no formal religious training. She earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from American University, and in 1955 she married Albert Greenberg, whom she had met at the university.{$S[A]Green, Hannah;Greenberg, Joanne}

During her teenage years, she had been treated for schizophrenia and eventually institutionalized. Her therapist was Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, an active proponent of the use of psychoanalysis for schizophrenia patients (in contradiction of Sigmund Freud, who, though he had originated the psychoanalytic method did not believe that it could be used for such patients). In the course of the therapy the two women formed a close relationship and planned to collaborate on a book about schizophrenia. When Fromm-Reichmann died in 1957, Greenberg decided to undertake the project herself by writing a fictionalized account of her illness in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. In the novel, the protagonist, Deborah Blau, who suffers from schizophrenia, creates a mythical kingdom called Yr to which she retreats when reality becomes too overwhelming. She attempts suicide, is hospitalized, and undergoes treatment with a Dr. Fried, who is patterned on Fromm-Reichmann. The book was widely praised by critics and psychoanalysts alike for its sensitive and illuminating portrayal of mental illness, but it did not sell well until it was published in paperback, when it attracted a large audience, especially among teenage girls. Millions of copies were sold in more than a dozen languages, and the novel was made into a film in 1977. The title was also used in a popular song, and the expression “I never promised you a rose garden” became a commonplace in American English.

Although she had published one novel, The King’s Persons, under her own name, Greenberg chose to publish I Never Promised You a Rose Garden under the pseudonym Hannah Green. Because it was commonly believed in the 1960’s that schizophrenia was incurable, Greenberg wanted to keep her own mental illness a secret to protect her two young sons. It was not until the 1970’s that she acknowledged her authorship.

Her career as a social worker and psychoanalyst brought Greenberg into contact with the subcultures of the...

(The entire section is 1114 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Joanne Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 24, 1932, the daughter of Julius Lester and Rosalie (Bernstein) Goldenberg. She earned a B.A. degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and at the same time she gained an interest in medieval art and music, which led her to write her historical novel The King’s Persons. On her summer vacations she sang alto at the Tanglewood Music Festival and “was briefly the only white waitress in a Navajo reservation restaurant.” This is narrated in “L’Olam and White Shell Woman.” Other vacation experiences that contributed to the collection Summering were herding horses, tutoring the foreign-born, and being a space-control agent for an airline. Greenberg is also a graduate of the University of London, England. Being a qualified teacher of sign language afforded her insights into the silent world she depicted in In This Sign. On September 4, 1955, she married Albert Greenberg, a vocational rehabilitation counselor; they became the parents of two sons, David and Alan. Her involvement in land reclamation led her to write Founder’s Praise. Her volunteer work on a fire-fighting and emergency rescue team contributed to “Like a Banner” and “Merging Traffic.” Her wide-ranging interests include teaching anthropology and sign language. Greenberg continued to pursue vigorously her writing career and her many and varied interests. She has been a member of the Authors’ Guild, the Authors’ League of America, the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN), the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of the Deaf, and the Colorado Authors’ League.


(Novels for Students)

Joanne Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932. Her early childhood was marred by the terror a child might well feel when talk of...

(The entire section is 450 words.)