Chapter 9: The
Chapter 9: The
| A Brief Biography |
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Source: Wellesley College
"The Typewriter," Opportunity Magazine, 1925; The Living is Easy, 1948; The Wedding, 1995; The Richer, the Poorer: Stories, Sketches, and Reminiscences, 1995.
West, Dorothy. "Elephant's Dance: A Memoir of Wallace Thurman." Black World 20.1 (1970): 77-85.
Where the Wild Grape Grows: Selected Writings, 1930-1950. Mitchell, Verner D. ed. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2005.
Slected Bibliography 1980-Present
Barnes, Paula C. "Dorothy West: Harlem Renaissance Writer?" in Tarver, Australia, and Paula C. Barnes. eds. New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.
Champion, Laurie. "Dorothy West (1907-1998)." in Champion, Laurie. ed. American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.
Kramer, Victor A. ed. The Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined. NY: AMS, 1987.
Mitchell, Verner D. and Cynthia Davis. eds. Dorothy West: Where the Wild Grape Grows: Selected Writings, 1930-1950. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2005.
Mitchell, Verner D. Literary Sisters: Dorothy West and Her Circle, a Biography of the Harlem Renaissance. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011.
Nelson, Emmanuel S. and Deborah G. Plant. eds. Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.
Perry, Ruth, and Martine W. Brownley. eds. Mothering the Mind: Twelve Studies of Writers and Their Silent Partners. NY: Holmes & Meier, 1984.
Rayson, Ann. "Sexuality, Color, and Class in Dorothy West's The Wedding.' in Hsu, Ruth, Franklin, Cynthia, and Kosanke, Suzanne. eds. Re-Placing America: Conversations and Contestations: Selected Essays. Honolulu: College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, University of Hawaii, with East-West Center, 2000.
Sherrard-Johnson, Cherene. Dorothy West's Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012.
Wilks, Jennifer M. Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism: Suzanne Lacascade, Marita Bonner, Suzanne Césaire, Dorothy West. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2008.
Witalec, Janet, and Trudier Harris-Lopez. eds. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
A Student Project by Christina M. Durso
Dorothy West, an author and journalist, is best known for her work during the Harlem Renaissance. There is a vast disparity in the exact year in which she was born. Many articles state her year of birth being 1907, but some research states 1908, 1910, or 1912. Most of the information has stated 1907, so I will state my educated guess as such. West was the child of Rachel Pease Benson and Isaac Christopher West. Dorothy West was born on June 2, 1907 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother had moved from her native home of Camden, South Carolina, to Massachusetts as a teenager. Years later she met and married the older Isaac West, a former slave from Virginia who lived first in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he opened an ice cream parlor and food store, then in Boston, where he owned a wholesale fruit company and became known as the "Black Banana King" of Boston (Smith 1238-40). Her formal education began at age two under the tutelage of Bessie Trotter, sister of Monroe Nathan Trotter, then editor of the Boston Guardian. At the age of four West entered the Farragut School in Boston and was capable of doing the work of a second grader. Her elementary education was completed at Matin School in Boston's Mission District. She began writing short stories at the tender age of seven. Her first short story, "Promise and Fulfillment," was published in the Boston Globe, a paper for which West became a regular contributor and that awarded her several literary prizes. After graduating from Girl's Latin High School in 1923, West continued her education at Boston University and later the Columbia University School of Journalism (Hine 48).
West's long association with Harlem began as a teenager when she and her cousin, Helen Johnson, accepted an invitation to attend Opportunity magazine's annual awards dinner in New York and stayed at the Harlem Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Later West moved into an apartment previously resided by Zora Neale Hurston. Her writing flourished in New York, and she was quickly a part of the Harlem Renaissance, surrounded by such luminaries as Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Aaron Douglas, and Langston Hughes. West's short story "The Typewriter" won second place in a competition run by Opportunity magazine in 1926. She shared this award with Hurston.
In 1927, West had a small part in the original stage production of Porgy in which she traveled to London. During the 1930s West was involved with the film production of Black and White, which led her to the Soviet Union. The film was never completed, but she extended her visit for another year. In 1934, West began to publish a literary magazine called Challenge back in New York, which was devoted to promoting the work of established Harlem Renaissance figures as well as that of lesser-known writers. West founded New Challenge, with Richard Wright as associate editor in 1937. Only one issue was published, but the magazine reflected West's increasing interest in class issues as well as the struggles of Black people generally ("Dorothy West" 50).
West became a welfare investigator in Harlem for one and a half years after her two magazines folded due to financial difficulties. Later she joined the Federal Writers Project of the Works in Progress Administration until its demise in the 1940s. West never ceased writing during this period. Several of her short stories were published, such as "Hannah Byde," "An Unimportant Man," "Prologue to a Life," and "The Black Dress." From the 1940s to the 1960s, she was a regular contributor to the New York Daily News. In 1945, West moved to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts where she has since written weekly for the Martha's Vineyard Gazette.
In the novel, The Living is Easy, published in 1948, West satirized affluent Black Bostonians who allowed class differences to separate them from the concerns of working-class Black communities. The novel received mixed reviews during this time period, but it became a significant influence in later decades on rising authors. Her second novel, The Wedding, was not published until 1995, when West of 88 years old. It was turned into a miniseries by Oprah Winfrey. The book was so successful that Doubleday brought out a collection of her short stories and reminiscences, The Richer, the Poorer. West died on August 20, 1998, in Oak Bluffs, a Martha's Vineyard town where she had lived since 1947. Dorothy West was 91 years old ("Died: Dorothy West" 49).
"Died: Dorothy West." Newsweek 132.9 (Aug. 1995): 49.
"Dorothy West." Current Biography 58.2 (Feb. 1997): 50-4.
Hine, Darlene., ed. Black Women in America. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1993.
Smith, Jessie., ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
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