A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Biography: Betty Smith

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American novelist and playwright Betty Smith (née Elizabeth Lillian Wehner) was born in 1896 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, although Smith later claimed to have been born in 1906. Smith is most well known for her first novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), which is a coming-of-age novel that focuses on slum life in early twentieth century Williamsburg. Although a work of fiction, it also draws on aspects of Smith’s childhood.

It is thought that she graduated from school at the age of fourteen and began working to help support her family. One of her jobs was working as a reader in a clipping bureau, as does Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. From the age of 19 to 21, Smith returned to her studies and attended high school. In 1919, she eloped to marry George Smith who was, by then, a student at the University of Michigan. After the birth of her two children, Smith continued her studies by taking classes at the university. Her talent for writing was rewarded with the Avery Hopwood award for drama. She also went on to study playwriting at Yale.

Smith continued to work as a dramatist and journalist throughout her writing career, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is still remembered as the most successful of her works. This was followed by the later novels Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963). Smith died in Connecticut in 1972.

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