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Schlesinger Library / Collections

Dorothy West

Dorothy West, born in Boston in 1907, moved to New York City in 1925 at the age of 18 and became the youngest among a group of artists and writers working in the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes nicknamed her “the kid.”

Portrait of Dorothy West, seated in chair on a deck
Sedwick, Judith. Portrait of Dorothy West, 1982. Black Women Oral History Project Records.

West 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 20 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, Massachusetts, 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.

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