Bette Greene (née Evensky), author of young-adult fiction, was born in 1934 in Memphis, Tennessee. She was raised in Parkin where her parents ran a general store. She began writing at an early age and claims to have had a piece published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal at the age of nine. She went on to study at various institutions including the University of Memphis, Alliance Française in Paris, and Columbia University. Before becoming a successful novelist, she worked as a reporter and information officer.
Her first novel, Summer of My German Soldier (1973), draws on certain aspects of Greene’s upbringing (including being isolated in her home town because she is Jewish). This was an acclaimed debut work and was made a finalist for the National Book Award. It also won the Golden Kite children’s writer award and the New York Times outstanding book award, and was adapted for film for television in 1978. As well as receiving praise and distinction, it has also been regarded as a controversial work for its negative portrayal of a Jewish man, especially when contrasted with the positive depiction of the eponymous German soldier, Anton.
This was followed by Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe (1974), which is the first of three books for middle grades, and Morning is a Long Time Coming (1978). This latter novel is a sequel to Summer of My German Soldier. Other works include A Writer’s Survivor Kit (1981), Them That Glitter and Them That Don’t (1983), and The Drowning of Stephan Jones (1991).
The Drowning of Stephan Jones exemplifies Greene’s continued interest in the theme of injustice and is based on the true story of the murder of a young gay man. She conducted over 400 interviews in her research for this work as she attempted to understand the link between violence, homophobia and its sanctioning by the Church.
Greene married in 1959 and has lived in Brookline, Massachusetts since this time. Her papers are kept in permanent collection at the University of Minnesota.