Rosa Guy’s life, especially her childhood, was filled with the sorts of challenges, trials and loss that would have broken lesser individuals. Instead, her experiences growing up in New York fostered a fierce urge to tell the stories of those around her, leading her to craft honest novels for young people.
Born in Trinidad, Rosa Guy immigrated to the United States at the age of seven, following her parents who had already made the trip. By the time she was fourteen, both of her parents had died, leaving she and her sister to provide for themselves as they were shuffled around group and foster homes. Guy became interested in theater before turning to writing; in 1950 she became one of the founding members of the Harlem Writers Guild.
Guy wrote frankly about the experience of growing up in a way that scores of young readers, especially African-American readers, have found honest and relatable. Her books dealt with poverty, class and racial issue in a way that few young adults had before. Ruby, published in 1976, talks about a lesbian relationship between two girls.
Because of their stark naturalism and portrayals of sex, Guy’s books were challenged and removed from school libraries in Louisiana and Georgia. Ultimately, her works have endured because they bring an eye to difficult subjects that many young people have and still do experience.