New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse

By Australia Tarver; Barnes C. Paula | Go to book overview

Dorothy West: Harlem Renaissance Writer?

Paula C. Barnes

DOROTHY WEST, WHO ACHIEVED HER OWN PERSONAL RENAISSANCE in 1995 with the publication of The Wedding, her second novel, as well as a volume of collected essays and short stories, The Richer, the Poorer, has been dubbed, “the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance.”1 With the increasing critical recognition that has come with these recent publications, there has been a gradual shift or reorientation in the placement of West in the African American literary canon. Rather than continuing to be identified as a writer of the Richard Wright or post-World War II era as suggested by critics Robert Bone, Bernard Bell, Mary Helen Washington, and Gloria Wade-Gayles, West is increasingly being classified as a Harlem Renaissance writer.2 Anthologies are also beginning to reflect this shift. Those published in the late 1990s, The New Cavalcade, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition, place West chronologically in the 1940s to 1960s but acknowledge her participation in the Harlem Renaissance. However, the most recent Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Literature places West in the Harlem Renaissance era.

West’s first short stories were indeed published during the Harlem Renaissance: “The Typewriter” and “Hannah Byde” both appeared in 1926; three others, “An Unimportant Man,” “Prologue to a Life,” and “The Funeral” were published before 1930. However, whether one accepts 1929 (the beginning of the Depression) or 1935 (the Harlem riot) as the end of the Harlem Renaissance, the majority of West’s literary output occurs afterward.3 And although West attained some prominence during the Harlem Renaissance years—her short story, “Typewriter,” placed second in the Opportunity contest along with Zora Neale Hurston’s “Muttsy,” her significant contributions to African American letters—the creation of the magazines Challenge,

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