Harriette Gillem Robinet was born in Washington, D.C. in 1931, the daughter of a history teacher. As a child, she would spend summers in Arlington, Virginia, where she learned that her grandparents were slaves who had worked under Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Robinet's father suggested she actively follow the news, keep a diary, and write a story every day. Her father’s guidance helped to lay the ground work for Robinet’s literary career.
Robinet obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree from College of New Rochelle and a graduate degree from Catholic University. She began her career as bacteriologist, teaching biology at the Xavier University in Louisiana and working as a researcher for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. During this time, she meet her future husband, McLouis. In 1960 the couple moved to Illinois, so McLouis could teach physics at the University of Illinois, Medical Center. With the responsibilities of a growing family, Robinet left bacteriology to become a free-lance writer.
In the mid 1960s the Robinets began searching for a home to better accomodate their growing family and provide an easy commute for McLouis, who worked nearby. The Robinet family was denied housing seven times before they found a home in Oak Park in 1965. As as result of their experiences, the Robiniets played an active role in what would be come to known as the Open Housing movement. Robinet also wrote about their experiences in a Janaury 1968 Redbook article.
In 1977 Children’s Press in Oak Park published Robinet's first children’s book, Jay and the Marigold. The book was notable for depicting an African American child with a disability. It was originally written in 1969, but was rejected repeatedly by publishers due to its subject matter. Robinet's second work, Ride the Red Cycle was published in 1980. Her books continued to highlight the African-American experience, especially in historical settings. Robinet has received many accolades for her writing, including the Carl Sandburg Award, the Scott O'Dell Award for children's historical fiction and Jane Addams Award.
Harriette Gillem Robinet continues to live and write in Oak Park.