Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Jacquelyn Y McLendon


This dissertation is a bio-critical study of writer Dorothy West (1907--1998). It focuses on her apprenticeship in Harlem from 1926--1934 during the literary renaissance and lays the groundwork for a biography, long overdue. West's career extends from the Harlem Renaissance to the end of the 20 th century, but she has not received the critical recognition her work merits. The study of West's early work illuminates her later work, The Living Is Easy (1948) and The Wedding (1995); it demonstrates the continuity throughout her writing and makes clear that she struggled with the same themes and issues repeatedly during her seventy-year career.;Sensitized by their experience of slavery and racism in America, Dorothy West's family internalized an extreme consciousness of color. their negative construction of color played out its dynamics in West's literary imagination. Her portraits of color consciousness ran counter to the hopes of the Harlem Renaissance to build racial pride through positive self-representation. The dysfunctional model of black family life in West's fiction challenged W. E. B. Du Bois' racial aesthetics, in his underestimation of the place of color in shaping positive racial subjectivity, and interrogated the racial discourse of 1920's black periodicals. Her opposition cost her their support, thereby limiting her publishing opportunities. This set of circumstances encouraged West and fellow-writer Wallace Thurman to develop little magazines as independent publishing venues to maintain authorship and representational authority. But this hiatus from writing compromised the full development of West's talent.;Dorothy West's fiction was primarily a quest for self-definition. Ultimately, she followed the path of Alex Haley, seeking her "roots" across the generations in a slave past. In a life-long struggle with her mother's conflicted racial values, West came to embrace a broad acceptance of her race with all its vagaries of color and mixed ancestry. at its best, Dorothy West's life was spent learning to recreate and then to love herself. and at its best, her fiction expressed that struggle to create and to love.



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