Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists of Progressive Politics During World War II

Farah Jasmine Griffin. Basic, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-465-01875-8
Griffin’s triptych focuses on dancer Pearl Primus, writer Ann Petry, and musician Mary Lou Williams—African-American political activists and artists who were innovative and influential during the 1940s, the era of the Double Victory Campaign (Victory at Home and Abroad), as black Americans “fought not only overseas for their country but also to be recognized as citizens at home.” Devoting a section to each artist, Columbia University professor Griffin provides biographical details and a discerning assessment of particular works, among them Primus’s “Strange Fruit,” Petry’s The Street, Williams’s Zodiac Suite, and delineates their historical, social, and personal milieu. In placing the women’s artistic endeavors squarely in the context of their political activities in the midst of the Double V Campaign, Griffin adds a fresh and provocative perspective to their creative work, but the book bursts at the seams. There’s almost a whole history of Harlem, as well as a who’s who of friends, husbands, employers, and contemporaries of the primary subjects (Katherine Dunham, Dinah Washington, Benjamin Davis, and others). Still, the book constitutes a giant step to securing the place all three subjects merit in American cultural history. Fully accessible to general readers, it will be mined by future scholars. Agent: Loretta Barrett, Lorretta Barrett Books. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/01/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
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