cover image Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Tara T. Green. Bloomsbury Academic, $26.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-50138-230-7

Writer and activist Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935) “navigated complex questions of racism, women’s rights, and sexual agency and found ways to resist” according to this show-stopping biography from Green (Reimagining the Middle Passage), a professor of African American and African diaspora studies at the University of North Carolina. Green studies Dunbar-Nelson’s archives to examine “the role respectability played in her projection and definition of an upstanding public persona and its intersection with a private self that may not have met the standards of respectable behavior.” A poet involved in the Harlem Renaissance, Dunbar-Nelson was born in New Orleans to a formerly enslaved woman and a man she never knew, and married three times, including to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who raped and abused her before their marriage and continued abusing her until she left him after four years. Dunbar-Nelson kept much of her personal life out of the public eye, Green writes, including the end of the marriage and her sexual attraction to women. Analysis of Dunbar-Nelson’s stories and poems are woven into the main episodes of her life, which helps shape Green’s exquisite examination of Dunbar-Nelson’s public persona. This definitive look at a remarkable figure delivers the goods. (Jan.)