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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circle that serves as an introduction to a well-edited, representative collection of her out-of-print, little-known, or unpublished writings, supplemented by many family photographs.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 A centerpiece of the book is her unpublished novella, "Where the Wild Grape Grows," which explores with grace and gentle irony the complex relationship of three retired women living on Martha's Vineyard.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"What a great idea to gather in one volume the many previously published and unpublished writings of Dorothy West!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.
|Preface : toward a reappraisal of Dorothy West's work|
|Introduction : Dorothy West and her circle||3|
|At the swan boats||57|
|Prologue to a life||70|
|The black dress||86|
|The house across the way||105|
|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|
|App. I||New York daily news stories||213|
|App. II||Family tree||214|