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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Authors

Sam Greenlee

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Sam Greenlee

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Full Name: Samuel Eldred Greenlee
Born: July 13, 1930
Chicago, IL
Died: May 14, 2014
Occupation: Author
Nationality: American


Samuel Eldred Greenlee, Jr. was an American writer. He is best known for his novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, first published in London by Allison & Busby. in March 1969 (having been rejected by dozens of mainstream publishers), and went on to be chosen as The Sunday Times Book of the Year. The novel was subsequently made into the 1973 movie of the same name, directed by Ivan Dixon and co-produced and written by Greenlee, that is now considered a "cult classic."

Sam Greenlee was born in St. Luke's Hospital, Chicago, Illinois to an African-American family. His parents were singer and dancer Desoree Alexander and railroad man and union activist Samuel Greenlee. He grew up in west Woodlawn. He attended Englewood High School, and in 1948 won a track scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1952 with a BS degree in political science. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity (Beta Omicron 1950). He served in the United States Army from 1952 to 1954, earning the rank of first lieutenant, and from 1954 to 1957 did graduate studies in international relations at the University of Chicago.

In 1957 Greenlee began a career with the United States Information Agency, and, as one of first black officials to work overseas, served in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Greece between 1957 and 1965. In 1958 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for bravery during the 14 July Revolution in Baghdad.

Leaving the United States foreign service after eight years, he stayed on in Greece where he undertook further study (1963-64) at the University of Thessaloniki, and lived for three years on the island of Mykonos.

It was while living on Mykonos that Greenlee began to write his first and best known novel, entitled The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which was the story of a black man who is recruited as a CIA agent and having mastered the skills of a spy then uses them to lead a black guerrilla movement in the US. Rejected by many mainstream publishers on both sides of the Atlantic, the novel was eventually published in London in March 1969 by Allison and Busby.

Greenlee later co-wrote (with Mel Clay) the screenplay for what became the 1973 film The Spook Who Sat by the Door that he co-produced with director Ivan Dixon, and which is considered "one of the more memorable and impassioned films that came out around the beginning of the notoriously polarizing blaxploitation era." In 2011, an independent documentary entitled Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door was filmed by Christine Acham and Clifford Ward, about the making and reception of the Spook film, in which Greenlee spoke out about the suppression of the film soon after its release. In a chance meeting with Aubrey Lewis (1935-2001), one of the first Black FBI agents to have been recruited in 1962 by the FBI, Greenlee was told that The Spook Who Sat by the Door was required reading at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Other works by Greenlee include Baghdad Blues, a 1976 novel based on his experiences traveling in Iraq in the 1950s and witnessing the 1958 Iraqi revolution, Blues for an African Princess, a 1971 collection of poems, and Ammunition (poetry, 1975). He also wrote short stories, plays (although he found no producer for any of them), and the screenplay for a film short called Lisa Trotter (2010), a story adapted from Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

Works in the WWEnd Database

 Non Series Works