Dorothy West (June 2, 1907 – August 16, 1998) was an American author associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Boston, she started writing as a child, and began receiving accolades and awards while still in her teens.
In 1926 she traveled to New York City to accept an award for one of her short stories and never left. Finding community in the city, West became part of the Harlem Renaissance and was known by her contemporaries as “The Kid,” an affectionate nickname given to her by poet Langston Hughes. Her writing is admired for the details and examinations of the African-American community, in areas such as gender, class, and social matters.
West founded the Harlem Renaissance literary magazine Challenge in 1934, and New Challenge in 1937. Her associate editor was the up-and-coming Richard Wright. During the Depression, she also worked as a welfare investigator and WPA relief worker in Harlem.
Her first novel, The Living is Easy (1948), depicts the life of an upper class black family. It remained her only novel for decades. West spent most her time writing short stories and working on Challenge, the first magazine to feature literature with realistic depictions of African-American life.
Her second novel, The Wedding, was published in 1995 to much acclaim and became a national bestseller. Upon its publication, she was 85 years old. Shortly thereafter, in 1998, it was adapted into a television mini-series, produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Dorothy West spent much of her later life on her beloved Martha’s Vineyard. She died in 1998 at the age of 91, of what were believed to be “natural causes.” She was one of the last surviving members of the Harlem Renaissance.
- The Living is Easy
- The Wedding
- The Richer, The Poorer
- The Dorothy West Martha’s Vineyard
- Where The Wild Grape Grows: Selected Writings, 1930-1950
Biographies about Dorothy West
- Dorothy West’s Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color
by Cherene Sherrard-Johnson
- Literary Sisters: Dorothy West and her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance
by Verner Mitchell and Cynthia Davis
Articles, News, Etc.
- The Wedding (mini-series), 1998
Visit Dorothy West’s Home
- Dorothy West Home – Oak Bluffs, MA
- Papers of Dorothy West – Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Dorothy West Quotes
“Identity is not inherent. It is shaped by circumstance and sensitivity and resistance to self-pity.” (The Wedding, 1995)
“I’m a writer. I don’t cook and I don’t clean.”
“Beauty is but skin deep, ugly to the bone. And when beauty fades away, ugly claims its own.” (The Wedding, 1995)
“He had been taught that bread unshared is bread unblessed when someone else is hungry, whether man or beast, friend or stranger.” (The Wedding, 1995)
“When I was seven, I said to my mother, may I close my door? And she said, yes, but why do you want to close your door? And I said because I want to think. And when I was eleven, I said to my mother, may I lock my door? And she said yes, but why do you want to lock your door? And I said because I want to write.”
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