cover image The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture

The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture

Courtney Thorsson. Columbia Univ, $28.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-231-20472-9

Thorsson (Women’s Work), an English professor at the University of Oregon, presents a vivid group portrait of “The Sisterhood,” a short-lived yet influential collective of Black women academics, journalists, novelists, and editors who in the 1970s worked to “secure publication, publicity, and recognition” for Black women. The group—which counted poet Audre Lorde, critic Margo Jefferson, and playwright Ntozake Shange among its members—was founded by novelist Alice Walker and poet June Jordan in 1977 New York City as a network for supporting and promoting each other’s work. Early member Toni Morrison, then the “first and only Black woman editor at Random House,” convinced Essence’s editor-in-chief to publish “serious, sometimes politically radical Black feminist writing” by Jordan and scholar Judith Wilson, who was also in the group. The Sisterhood stopped meeting in 1979, hobbled by the members’ busy schedules and dissent over whether to expand into such political and community initiatives as establishing a center for Black women survivors of domestic violence. Thorsson’s research, which draws on correspondence and meeting minutes, illuminates a formative period for some of the most enduring writers of the 1980s while offering a “model for collective action to change cultural institutions.” It’s a scintillating snapshot of a significant moment in American literature. Photos. (Nov.)