Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Women of… Wednesday: Marita Bonner

What an exciting period the Harlem Renaissance must have been. I don’t mean in a Roaring Twenties/flappers/talking movies kind of way. I mean intellectually.

Marita Bonner, a Boston-area woman, represents the reach the Harlem Renaissance had throughout the country and the world. She was only two generations removed from slavery and in that short amount of time was able to participate in the birth of a new genre.

Although she was the granddaughter of a slave, Marita’s life was not one of want. She grew up in a blue-collar household and was expected to study more than just the 3 R’s. By the time she entered Radcliffe College, Marita also was fluent in German and an award winning pianist.

Attending one of the Seven Sisters schools might seem the natural progression for a woman of Marita’s talents but her choice of schools may have had more to do with convenience. The Civil Rights movement was more than 40 years off. Marita and other African American students were not allowed to live on campus. So, every day she commuted.

At Radcliffe she was accepted into Professor Charles Copeland’s writing class. The acceptance was an honor. The Professor took only 16 talented students at a time. Evidently, he recognized Marita’s gift.

After college, Marita found a teaching job near Washington, D.C. There her writing was further nurtured by the literary salon hosted by poet Georgia Douglass Johnson and others.

In 1926 she published one of her most famous pieces: “On Being Young—A Woman—and Colored.” The essay expressed the double issues faced by all young black women of the period. They faced prejudice because of their skin color and their gender.

Marita’s contributions to the writings of the Harlem Renaissance period include many short stories and three plays. Eventually she married, moved to Chicago, and raised her family. She continued teaching but never published again.

She died tragically in an apartment fire in 1971. Her daughter, Joyce, later found two unpublished stories her mother had written. She arranged to have all her mother’s work—including the two new stories published in one volume.

Marita’s stories are filled with people waiting for change. Many of the plots occur on an imaginary street called Frye Street. In this neighborhood, people of all races and nationalities lived together peacefully. Did Marita know she was predicting America’s future?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need to read her stories. I'm intrigued by the whole idea of the double prejudice -- black and a woman. I'd like to see how that shows up -- or not -- in her work.

Nice post, Mur.