Book for February 2014
The main metaphor of the book is the hardy Tree of Heaven, native to China and Taiwan, now considered invasive, and common in the vacant lots of New York City.
Although the book addresses many different issues—poverty, alcoholism, lying, etc.--its main theme is the need for tenacity: the determination to rise above difficult circumstances. Although there are naturalistic elements in the book, it is not fundamentally naturalistic. The Nolans are financially restricted by poverty yet find ways to enjoy life and satisfy their needs and wants. For example, Francie can become intoxicated just by looking at flowers. Like the Tree of Heaven, Brooklyn's inhabitants fight for the sun and air necessary to their survival.
After marrying George H. E. Smith, a fellow Brooklynite, she moved with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he pursued a law degree at the University of Michigan. At this time, she gave birth to two girls and waited until they were in school so she could complete her higher education. Although Smith had not finished high school, the university allowed her to enroll in classes. There she honed her skills in journalism, literature, writing, and drama, winning a prestigious Avery Hopwood Award. She was a student in the classes of Professor Kenneth Thorpe Rowe.
In 1938 she divorced her husband and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There she married Joseph Jones in 1943, the same year in which A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published. She teamed with George Abbott to write the book for the 1951 musical adaptation of the same name. Throughout her life, Smith worked as a dramatist, receiving many awards and fellowships including the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship for her work in drama. Her other novels include Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963).
On January 17, 1972, she died from pneumonia in Shelton, Connecticut, at the age of 75.