Elsie B. Washington, Trailblazing Black Novelist, Dies at 66

from the May 17th edition of The New York Times:

Elsie B. Washington, whose 1980 book, “Entwined Destinies,” is widely considered the first black romance novel, died on May 5 in Manhattan. She was 66 and had lived in Yonkers in recent years.

The cause was multiple sclerosis and cancer, her brother, James E. Peterson, said.
The 575th title in Dell’s Candlelight Romance series, “Entwined Destinies” was published under the pen name Rosalind Welles. It tells the story of a beautiful young black woman, a magazine correspondent, who after many travails finds love with a tall, dashing black man, an oil company executive.

In 2002 Black Issues Book Review said the novel was “the first known romance featuring African-American characters written by an African-American author.”
“Entwined Destinies” was Ms. Washington’s only novel. Primarily a journalist, she wrote two nonfiction books, “Sickle Cell Anemia” (Third Press, 1974, with Anthony Cerami) and “Uncivil War: The Struggle Between Black Men and Women” (Noble Press, 1996).
Elsie Bernice Washington was born in the Bronx on Dec. 28, 1942. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from the City College of New York and afterward was a writer and editor with The New York Post, Life magazine, Newsweek and Essence magazine.
An essay by Ms. Washington in the January 1988 issue of Essence attracted wide attention in the news media. In it she deplored the trend among black people to conform to white standards of beauty by using tinted contact lenses to change the color of their eyes, among other things.
Besides her brother, Mr. Peterson, Ms. Washington is survived by her parents, Samuel Washington and Kathleen Peterson Erby.

The black romance novel is today a thriving genre that includes several publishing imprints devoted to it exclusively and that features books by Sandra Kitt, Beverly Jenkins, Rochelle Alers and many other writers.


I'd often wondered why I heard nothing about Ms. Washington's other works. Now I know that she was primarily a nonfiction writer and only wrote one novel. I'm glad she did see what came out of that one novel she wrote so long ago.


DonnaD said...

Wow. It's amazing what you don't know. She's a true trailblazer and it's a shame that it's only in death that she gets recognized for being a "first." I'm pretty sure Ebony and Essence won't even have a mention, though Jet might.

I wonder why she never wrote another novel. That would have been an interesting story.

bettye griffin said...

I wondered about that, too, Donna! Why just one novel? Maybe it was enough for her to have injected some color into what was then and for quite some time after an all-white playing field. She seems to have been very capable. Then again, I wonder how the book sold . . .?