Rosa Guy Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rosa Cuthbert Guy (gee) immigrated from Trinidad with her parents and sister to Harlem at the age of seven. Her mother died when she was nine, and Guy, after living with an aunt for a time, was raised by her demanding father, who seems to have closely resembled Phylissia Cathy’s irascible father in The Friends. Guy’s father died when she was fifteen. Of her experiences growing up on the streets of New York, Guy later wrote: “Before my eyes many dramas unfolded, dramas which out-Dickensed Dickens, and equaled if not rivaled the Brontë sisters in passion.” In 1941, Rosa Cuthbert married Warner Guy, with whom she had one son, also named Warner. Rosa and Warner Guy were divorced in 1950, and he was killed in 1962.

Guy studied at New York University and with the American Negro Theater, where her frustration with the limitations on roles for black actors, along with a larger anger at what she calls “the obvious flaw woven into the fabric of this democratic society” led to her beginning to write. In 1951, together with John Killens, Guy founded the influential Harlem Writers Guild. In addition to her activities as an anthropologist and writer, she also participated in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, both in New York and in the South.

Guy has written for children and for adults, but her best-known works are her trilogy for young adults consisting of The Friends, Ruby, and Edith Jackson. The Friends is the story of Phylissia Cathy, a West Indian teenager who is transplanted to Harlem, where she is at first shunned by her African American classmates because of her accent and her interest in her schoolwork; eventually Edith Jackson, one of the poorest and least sophisticated girls in the school, defends her and stops the others from hurting her. Although Phylissia and Edith form a kind of friendship, Phylissia secretly agrees with her father, who condemns Edith for being dirty and from an unacceptably low social class. When Phylissia’s mother...

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(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

In The Friends, Rosa Guy provides a vivid portrait of two cultures, demonstrating the immigrant's struggle to integrate old and new...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bell, Bernard W. The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. Argues for the placement of Guy’s work within the context of traditional realism and particularly of what Bell calls “Afro-American neorealism,” which asserts that no discussion of character can occur outside a social and historical framework.

Gallo, Donald R., ed. Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1990. Contains an interview with Guy in which she discusses the experiences that led her to write.

Lawrence, Leota S. “Rosa Guy.” In Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, edited by Thadious M. Davis and Trudier Harris. Vol. 33 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1984. A study of Guy’s career up to 1984.

Norris, Jerrie. Presenting Rosa Guy. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A volume in Twayne’s United States Authors series.

Thigpen, David. “Rosa Guy Books for Broadway.” Essence, November, 1991. A brief profile of Guy in which Thigpen also describes the transformation of My Love, My Love into an Off-Broadway musical.

Vince, Thomas L. Review of Bird at My Window, by Rosa Guy. Best Sellers 25 (January 15, 1966): 403. Vince calls Guy’s adult work perhaps the most important novel about Harlem life since James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953).

Wilson, Judith. “Rosa Guy: Writing with a Bold Vision.” Essence 10 (October, 1979): 14-20. Provides a profile of Guy. Discusses her Alabama stepmother, her West Indian father, her parents’ involvement in the Marcus Garvey movement, her growing up in Harlem, and her reluctance to showcase only the positive, middle-class black experience.