The items in this online exhibition evoke the stories of American women through the ages.
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Dorothy West’s writing desk, n.d.

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute


Dorothy West (1907–1998), the Harlem Renaissance writer best known for her novel The Living Is Easy (1948), is pictured here on the porch of her Martha’s Vineyard home. The portrait, taken as part of Judith Sedwick’s Women of Courage project (also featured in the exhibition), captures West at her writing desk, a treasured object in the Library’s collection. From this desk, West wrote a weekly Oak Bluffs column for the Vineyard Gazette from 1973 to 1993.

The Living Is Easy was reprinted by the Feminist Press in 1982. In the early 1990s, West met Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard and an editor at Doubleday. Onassis encouraged West to complete an unfinished novel, and The Wedding was published by Doubleday in 1995. That same year, a volume of West’s collected stories, The Richer, the Poorer, was also published. Oprah Winfrey produced The Wedding as a television miniseries in February 1998.

Dorothy West Papers, Schlesinger Library

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Learn more about Dorothy West.

In great demand by researchers, the Dorothy West Collection at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library contains a range of materials—among them extensive correspondence, including letters from Langston Hughes, Fannie Hurst, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson. The collection began to show the effects of constant use, becoming more and more fragile. In 2011, with support from the Pinetree Foundation, the collection received a thorough conservation treatment, including digitization, and is now available online.

See the Schlesinger Library's research guide on African American women.

Heather Min