The Encyclopedia of Arkansas has updated its entry on Betty Evensky Greene, the Parkin native novelist best known for “Summer of My German Soldier, to note her death today in Florida at age 86.
Her first professional writing: At age 9, a story for the Memphis Commercial Appeal about a barn fire in Parkin, where her family owned a dry goods store. She became a journalist and information officer before turning to novels, many for young people. The Encylopedia recounts:
Greene’s novel Summer of My German Soldier is a young-adult classic, frequently taught in classrooms and popular as elective reading. Set in a small Arkansas town during World War II, it tells the story of a lonely Jewish girl who aids a German prisoner after he escapes from a stateside prisoner of war camp. The novel is partly autobiographical and is historically and psychologically realistic. In 1973, Summer of My German Soldier was a National Book Award finalist, was listed as an American Library Association Notable Book, and won the New York Times Outstanding Book Award and the Golden Kite Society children’s book writer’s award. In 1978, the novel was adapted as a television movie starring Kristy McNichol, Esther Rolle, Bruce Davison, Michael Constantine, and Barbara Barrie. The following year, the movie adaptation earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Writing. Rolle won the Outstanding Supporting Actress award.
Her favorite themes eventually led her to write a relevant article for the Arkansas Times.
Greene’s books typically show sympathy for those who are treated unjustly. Summer of My German Soldier exposes abusive parents and self-righteous bigots while revealing the plight of an alienated Jewish girl, a German prisoner, African Americans, and a Chinese grocer, while The Drowning of Stephan Jones sides with gays against religious fundamentalists who, in the course of the novel, brutally attack a young gay man. Greene believed that the theme of this latter book resulted in the cancellation of her speaking engagement at Harding University, a Church of Christ school in Searcy (White County), in April 2000, though a Harding spokesman claimed that the engagement had never been formalized.
Sadly, the Times article isn’t available in our digital archives. But, happily, the National Coalition Against Censorship reprinted it.