Dorothy West

Dorothy West, photo by Judith Sedwick, courtesy of Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute

Dorothy West, born in Boston in 1907, moved to New York City in 1925 at the age of eighteen. She was the youngest among a group of artists and writers working in the period that came to be called the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes nicknamed her “the kid.” She published her first story at the age of fourteen, in the Boston Post. In 1926 she and Zora Neale Hurston tied for second place in a contest sponsored by the Urban League’s Opportunity magazine. The next year West had a bit part in the play, Porgy, and toured with it for a couple of years. In 1932 she traveled to Russia with twenty other African Americans to make a film on American racism. The film was never made, but she stayed in Russia for a year.

During the Depression, West worked for the Federal Writers Project. From the fall of 1940 until the 1960s, she earned money writing two short stories a month for the New York Daily News. In the mid-1940s she moved to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and regularly wrote a column for the Vineyard Gazette. Her first novel, The Living Is Easy, was published in 1948. Her second novel, The Wedding, was not published until 1995. West died in 1998.

The Dorothy West papers are available online as is the Dorothy West transcript from the Black Women Oral History Project.

The Schlesinger Library Online Collection: Dorothy West portal is now available: