Though she started writing at age 7, Grace F. Edwards waited till she was 55 to publish her first novel. That guide, “In the Shadow of the Peacock,” was a lush portrayal of Harlem throughout World War II, a woman’s coming-of-age story set towards the race riots of the time.
It was a placeholder for the six detective tales she would later write, mysteries set in Harlem starring a feminine cop turned sociologist and unintended sleuth named Mali Anderson, at all times with a backbeat of jazz. The first of those, “If I Should Die,” was printed in 1997, when Ms. Edwards was 64.
She was 87 when she died on Feb. 25 at Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn, her dying receiving little discover at the time. Her daughter, Perri Edwards, who confirmed the dying, stated she had had dementia for 3 years.
In the late 1960s, Ms. Edwards and a good friend ran an Afrocentric costume store promoting dashikis and trendy caftans of their very own designs and people of others close to West 140th Street and Seventh Avenue (now known as Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard). They known as the shop Neferti, for the African queen (deliberately misspelling the title as a result of one other enterprise had taken the appropriately rendered one, Nefertiti).
By 1974, Ms. Edwards was a incapacity analyst in New York State’s social providers division, having earned a bachelor’s diploma from City College the 12 months earlier than and a grasp’s of high-quality arts a couple of years later.
In her first novel, she wrote of the neighborhood she liked, and its vanished characters:
“The women and the old men gathered for comfort where folks were known to do the most talking: The women drifted into Tootsie’s ‘Twist ‘n’ Snap Beauty Saloon,’ where the air was thick with gossip and fried dixie peach. The men congregated in Bubba’s Barber Shop to listen to orators, smooth as water-washed pebbles, alter history with mile-long lies.”
The guide took form with assist from the Harlem Writers Guild, which was founded in 1950 to support black authors. Ms. Edwards became the organization’s secretary in 1984 and was its executive director from 2007 to 2016. She taught creative writing at Marymount Manhattan and Hunter Colleges, Hofstra University and the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center (which closed in 2010), among other places.
“There is both gentility at work here and a tougher, bluesier voice,” the novelist Robert Ward wrote in reviewing “In the Shadow of the Peacock” in The New York Times Book Review in 1988.
Grace Fredrica Smith was born on Jan. 3, 1933, in Harlem Hospital to William and Fredrica (Middleton) Smith. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father at the time was a laborer for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. She had five brothers.
Grace met Bernard Edwards, who went by the name Slade, when she was 16, while his band was playing at a bar in Harlem. (He was also an artist and had been in the merchant marine.) Grace paid a friend a quarter to introduce her. They married in 1955. Though they divorced in 1987, they remained friends until Mr. Edwards’s death in 2011.
A second marriage, to Carl Yearwood, an owner of the storied Harlem jazz club Smalls Paradise, also ended in divorce.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Edwards is survived by a brother, Allen Judge.
“Grace Edwards’s take on Harlem is authentic, and captures the essence of its pain, pride and joy in all of her literary works,” Diane Richards, executive director of the Harlem Writers Guild, wrote in an email. “In particular, her 1988 debut novel, ‘In the Shadow of the Peacock,’ reveals Grace’s breathtaking perspectives on the perils of being black and female in America while spotlighting turbulent social conditions of the 1940s that have become a plague on our nation today.”