Guest Blog: Reclaiming Black Women of Distinction

Reclaiming Black Women of Distinction – by Sonia Adams, Guest Blogger

Sonia Adams is an Independent Literary Scholar, Educator, and Poet.  Her areas of scholarship are Transnational Ethnic Women’s and Multicultural American Literatures, Contemporary Avant Garde Poetry and Poetics, and Creative Writing Studies.  She works and resides in Brooklyn.


Engaging in literary recovery work is an endeavor I take great pride in. Reclaiming the lives and writings of modern ethnic women writers who have been obscured or silenced by the dominant literary establishments of their day is a prevailing pursuit within my scholarship and creative writings. It is a pleasure to know that there are contemporary academics, scholars, and writers who are committed to this work. Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin is one of its distinct representatives. She currently serves as the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Dr. Griffin’s scholarship focuses on American and African-American literature, music, history, and politics.

February 21st, I attended the Twelfth National Black Writers Preconference Program, “Harlem Nocturne: Illuminating Women Artists,” sponsored by the Center of Black Literature at Medgar Evers College and the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean (IRADAC) at the CUNY Graduate Center. The program celebrated the Dr. Griffin’s recent publication, Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II. Her book has received notable attention in the media. Last year, Professor Griffin was featured on CSPAN Book TV and the CUNY television show, ‘One to One’ with Sheryl McCarthy. I wanted the opportunity to see her engage in meaningful dialogue about this amazing book in person. What particularly interested me in Harlem Nocturne was one of its subjects, the African-American Novelist Ann Petry. Several years ago, I read Petry’s novel, The Street, about a single Black mother who strives to attain a better life for her family. The novel was published in 1946, receiving rave reviews. In addition, it sold over one million copies which was quite an accomplishment for Petry. Her feat in the dominant publishing industry during that time would spur a growing readership of literature centralizing the life experiences of African-American women as well as paving the way to canonize Black women authors and their writings. The other subjects in Professor Griffin’s book are Caribbean American Dancer and Choreographer Pearl Primus and African-American Musician and Composer Mary Lou Williams. Petry, Primus, and Williams were exceptional women artists who didn’t allow race, gender, and class boundaries to dictate their lives or artistic production. Harlem was the community in which these women both lived and served.

The Preconference Program began with opening remarks by Dr. Robert Reid-Pharr and Dr. Brenda Greene. Dr. Reid-Pharr is Distinguished and Presidential Professor of English and American Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. He spoke about the mission, work, and public programming of the Graduate Center and IRADAC. Dr. Greene is the Director of the English Department at Medgar Evers College and Founder of the Center for Black Literature. I met Dr. Greene several years ago when the Center was in its early stages. Currently, the Center offers cultural programs and writing workshops for the community at large. Dr. Greene spoke briefly about this year’s National Black Writers Conference, “Black Writers Reconstructing the Master Narrative,” which will take place at Medgar Evers College from March 27-30, 2014.

About Blog Editor

The Women’s National Book Association was founded in 1917 by female booksellers who weren’t allowed in the men’s organizations. Nearly 100 years later, the WNBA is still supporting women in the book industry through literary events, networking, literacy projects, workshops, open mic nights, book clubs, and many other entertaining programs throughout the season!

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