Friday, May 15, 2015

Dorothy West and class, color, and the black bourgeousie

Dorothy West is something of an anomaly: a peripheral figure in the Harlem Renaissance, she published only 2 novels: The Living is Easy in 1948 and this month's AAL choice The Wedding in 1995.

Although a generation younger, she hung out with Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen,  roomed with Zora Neale Hurston, and traveled with other black writers to the Soviet union to film a documentary on black life in the United States. Unlike Hurston, whose work focused on the rhythms and folklore of  rural African Americans, West wrote about the black middle class, especially the conflicts based on skin color hierarchy. In her New York Times obituary, Ms West is praised for her, "brisk narratives, an eye for detail and wit [used] to explore the aspirations of well-to-do blacks and the interplay of race, class and intraracial tensions in America".

Like Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor, The Wedding focuses on an exclusive African American community on the east coast. However, the central theme running through the novel is class and color: extended flashbacks describe the struggles of the family ancestors, whose goal was usually to "bleach" out the family line. As Shelby, the blond, light skinned youngest daughter plans her wedding to a white jazz musician, she must face up to generations of familial and community expectations, and reconcile them with her own desires and sense of identity.

Please join us for the discussion this coming Tuesday May 19th, 7:00 pm at the Evanston Public Library. Call 847-448-8620 to have us hold a copy of the book for you.