Over the course of his career, Elder Sam Greenlee has been a novelist, poet, screenwriter, journalist, teacher and talk show host. Born in Chicago on July 13, 1930, he attended Chicago public schools. At age fifteen, Elder Greenlee participated in his first sit-in and walked in his first picked line. His social activism continues to this day.
In 1952, Elder Greenlee received his B.S. in political science from the University of Wisconsin and the following year he attended law school. Deciding against a law career, he transferred to the University of Chicago, studying international relations from 1954 to 1957. In 1957, he began a seven-year career with the U.S. Information Agency as a foreign services officer, serving in Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Greece, and in 1958 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Award for bravery during the Baghdad revolution.
Elder Greenlee's first and most well known novel, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, was published in 1968. This prize-winning novel quickly became an underground favorite for its fictionalization of an urban-based war for African American liberation. Elder Greenlee co-wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel, and in 1973 The Spook Who Sat by the Door was released on film. The film was an overnight success when it was released but was unexpectedly taken out of distribution.