Where The Wild Grape Grows

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Despite her strong associations with Massachusetts—herupbringing in Roxbury, her lifelong connection with Martha's Vineyard, and two novels documenting the Great Migration and the rise and decline of Boston's African American community—Dorothy West (1907-1998) is perhaps best known as a member of the Harlem Renaissance. Between 1927 and 1947, West and her cousin, the poet Helene Johnson, lived in New York City where West attended Columbia University, worked as a welfare investigator, wrote for the WPA, traveled to Russia, and established a literary magazine for young black writers.

During these years, West and Johnson knew virtually everyone in New York's artistic, intellectual, and political circles. Their friends included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Carl Van Vechten, Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, Claude McKay, and many others. West moved easily between the bohemian milieu of her artistic soul mates and the bourgeois, respectable soirees of prominent social and political figures.

In this book, Professors Mitchell and Davis provide a carefully researched profile of West and her circle that serves as an introduction to a well-edited, representative collection of her out-of-print, little-known, or unpublished writings, supplemented by many family photographs. The editors document West's "womanist" upbringing and her relationships with her mother, Rachel Benson West, and other strong-minded women, including her longtime companion Marian Minus.

The volume includes examples of West's probing social criticism in the form of WPA essays and stories, as well as her interviews with Southern migrants. A centerpiece of the book is her unpublished novella, "Where the Wild Grape Grows," which explores with grace and gentle irony the complex relationship of three retired women living on Martha's Vineyard. Several of West's exquisitely observed nature pieces, published over a span of twenty years in the Vineyard Gazette, are also reprinted.

"This collection of West's work will certainly help readers see that she did not simply 'fall silent' in the 1940s only to return to writing to complete "The Wedding" in the 1980s. This book enables us to see her as a more thoroughly accomplished writer. It is an important work that will lead to a serious revision of West's place in the canon of African American writers."— Joseph T. Skerrett, author of "Literature, Race, and Ethnicity: Contesting American Identities"

"What a great idea to gather in one volume the many previously published and unpublished writings of Dorothy West! . . . This edition throws special light on West's talent and milieu, conveying a complex sense of her as a person in relationship to her family life and commitments, her artistic peers, and her intimate relationships. The editors' introduction and the biographical essay set the right tone for the project, appropriate for both the academic and the general reader."— Amritjit Singh, coeditor of "The Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman: A Harlem Renaissance Reader"

Dorothy West was born in Boston in 1907 and died on Martha's Vineyard in 1998.

Verner D. Mitchell is assistant professor of English at the University of Memphis and editor of "This Waiting for Love: Helene Johnson, Poet of the Harlem Renaissance" (University of Massachusetts Press, 2000).

Cynthia Davis is associate professor of English at Barry University.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
English professors Mitchell and Davis present a collection of the out-of-print and little-known works of a leading member of the Harlem Renaissance. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558494718
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface : toward a reappraisal of Dorothy West's work
Introduction : Dorothy West and her circle 3
Carolina 49
At the swan boats 57
Blackberrying 63
Quilting 67
Prologue to a life 70
Hannah Byde 79
The black dress 86
My baby 88
Mammy 94
Pluto 102
The house across the way 105
Mrs. Marlowe 114
The stairs 118
Where the wild grape grows 122
Winter on Martha's Vineyard 160
Elephant's dance : a memoir of Wallace Thurman 167
The inroads of time 176
Selected letters 179
App. I New York daily news stories 213
App. II Family tree 214
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