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Betty Smith (1) [1896–1972]

This page covers the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

For other authors named Betty Smith, see the disambiguation page.

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Betty Smith, December 15, 1896 - January 17, 1972 Betty Smith was born December 15, 1896, in Brooklyn, New York. She attended grammar school in Brooklyn, completing only the eighth grade. After leaving school at the age of fourteen, she worked in a factory, in retail and clerical jobs in New York City and eventually became a reader and editor for Dramatists Play Service, as well as an actress and playwright for the Federal Theater project and a radio actress. She attended the University of Michigan, from 1927 to 1930, as a special student. While attending the University of Michigan, some of her one-act plays were published, and she also worked as a feature writer for NEA (a newspaper syndicate) and wrote columns for the Detroit Free Press. She went on to Yale University Drama School, from 1930 to 1934. Smith became a member of the faculty of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from 1945 till 1946. She was a member of the Authors League and the Dramatists Guild. Smith is perhaps best known for her work "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," which became an overnight success for the first time writer. She won the Avery and Jule Hopwood first prize of $1,000 in 1931; the Rockefeller fellowship in playwriting and Rockefeller Dramatists Guild playwriting fellowship while at Yale and the Sir Walter Raleigh award for fiction in 1958, for "Maggie--Now." Betty Smith died on January 17, 1972. (Bowker Author Biography)
— biography from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
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Betty Smith was born Elizabeth (or Elisabeth) Wehner in Brooklyn, New York, to parents who were German immigrants. She attended school until age 14, when she was obliged to go to work to help support the family. She worked at a succession of jobs, including making tissue flowers at a factory and at a press clipping bureau. In 1919, she married George Smith, a fellow German-American, and moved with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he went to law school at the University of Michigan. The couple had two children and Betty waited until they were in school to complete her higher education. Although she had not finished high school, in 1927 she was permitted to enroll in classes, and studied journalism, literature, writing, and drama.
She attended the Yale University School of Drama from 1931 to 1934, and had two one-act plays produced in 1932. In 1938, she and her first husband divorced, and she moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She remarried to Joseph Jones, a newspaper columnist, in 1943, the same year in which she published A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, her highly autobiographical novel. It was a runaway bestseller. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was adapted into a famous 1945 film and several television versions, and has proven to be her most enduring work. She went on to become a well-known playwright, receiving many awards and fellowships. Her other novels include Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963).

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