Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During WWII by Farah Jasmine Griffin (Basic Books, $26.99)
Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor at Columbia University and acclaimed author, focuses on three exceptional artists in her new book: novelist Ann Petry, choreographer and Dancer Pearl Primus, and composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams. New York City during the 1940s was its own melting pot of political progressivism mixed with artistic energy and in was in this environment that a number to exceptional Harlem women stepped forward to help redefine American culture.
As Griffin points out, “These women were not Harlem’s only architects, nor were they its best known. But they, like others, tried to leave their mark on New York. They built a city where people mattered. They were concerned about poor and working people, about women and children, about the disenfranchised and the dispossessed.
They brought a radical vision from the 1930s into a new decade, helping to create a political culture that would inspire people worldwide.”
This well-crafted book is a literary glimpse into a frequently overlooked period of cultural and political progress for African Americans and women. Griffin is to be commended for dusting off this rich period of history and putting both the events and the people who made it happen into rich historical context.