Dorothy West

dorothy west

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.

“The Kid”
In 1926, Dorothy 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.

Harlem Renaissance
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.

The Living is Easy
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.

The Wedding
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.

The Wedding by Dorothy West mini-series

The Wedding was produced as a mini-series

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.

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Dorothy West Quotes

dorothy west“There is no life that does not contribute to history.”

“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.”

Dorothy West - 1998


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