Gwendolyn Osborne, journalist, romance writer, dies at 72
Ms. Osborne earned her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Northwestern University. She was a founding member of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Carolyn Hector Hall first met Gwendolyn Osborne in 1999 at a Black romance writer’s getaway, the Romance Slam Jam Conference in Orlando.
Or, should we say, Ms. Osborne really wanted to meet her. They were already acquainted through one of Hall’s online writing groups, Color of Love.
“I started a thread where my other friends who were writers would pick it up and finish [the story],” said Hall. “Then our reader friends who were in the Color of Love would comment.”
One of those “reader friends” was Ms. Osborne — and when she saw Hall, she immediately walked over and asked what was going to happen next in her latest story.
“At this conference, celebrity authors all stopped us to speak with her and here she was, holding my hand,” said Hall.
Ms. Osborne died May 14 at age 72. She was one of three women found unresponsive at the James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave. The cause and manner of death were still pending Friday afternoon, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Born in 1949 in Detroit, Ms. Osborne earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, a historically African American sorority.
Ms. Osborne began her journalism career reviewing books for the Detroit Free Press. She was particularly supportive of Black female authors, with Beverly Jenkins, Carla Fredd and Rochelle Alers among her favorites.
Her career eventually brought her to Chicago, where she helped found the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists in the early 1970s.
“We have tremendous gratitude for her commitment to our organization, and helping nurture future generations of Black journalists,” NABJ Chicago chapter president Brandon Pope wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times. “Gwen served numerous reporting and editorial roles for several publications, and was an avid fan of literary work, and was well known for her entertaining romance novel reviews. The board of directors sends our heartfelt prayers to Gwen’s family and loved ones.”
Ms. Osborne’s work was featured in publications across the nation, including Book Magazine, Mode Magazine and the NAACP’s The Crisis.
Ms. Osborne created “Diva Daze” getaways, inviting 30 to 50 women at a time. They were women from all walks of life — some she’d met in college, some from her childhood, others she’d met along the way.
“We traveled together every other year,” said Leslie Bell, who attended many Diva Daze excursions. “We tried to do Diva Daze in an area that was rich in African American history. For example, the first couple ones were done in Savannah, Georgia and we had people from the Gullah culture come speak with us.”
Other destinations included South Carolina and Hawaii. A trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where hundreds of Black residents were killed in an attack by white residents in 1921, was canceled by the pandemic.
Hall was with Ms. Osborne for the last Diva Daze, four years ago, in New Orleans.
“I sat at a table with my two favorite authors and she sat at another table laughing at me, knowing I’m sitting there starstruck.” Hall recalled. “She was like, ‘No, everybody’s just a regular person.’”
Diva Daze would have occurred around this time of year — in celebration of Ms. Osborne’s birthday.
“We went from strangers to becoming a true sisterhood,” Bell said.
Ms. Osborne also served as public information director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, and worked with the office of public affairs at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
She became director of public affairs for Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1995.
“Gwen was a remarkable person and an immensely talented public relations professional,” said Susan O’Brien, a former assistant dean for public affairs at the law school. “She was a gifted communicator who maintained outstanding relationships with local and national media outlets.”
Bell said Ms. Osborne had a way of making each person feel like they were the only person in the world.
“I remember one day going to my post office box and laughing hysterically,” Bell wrote on Facebook. Ms. Osborne had sent her food containers, in her sorority colors. They had divided compartments “because she knew I didn’t like my food to touch.”
Her post continued: “I could also count on things like texts on the anniversary of my mom’s passing that read, ‘sending you a motherly hug.’ ... So many memories, big and small. I shall now take all those memories and hold them close as we journey through the weeks and years ahead.”
Survivors include a son, Kenneth Rye; a grandson; a niece; and several cousins.
Memorial services are scheduled for June 3 at Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave., Evanston. Donations to the family can be made via Cash App to $hoticelive on any mobile device.