Parul Sehgal of The New York Times Book Review reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Two new nonfiction books offer historical looks at the women of Harlem: the black artists who flourished there after World War II and the white women who sought a role for themselves in the Harlem Renaissance.
In "Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II," Farah Jasmine Griffin presents a group portrait of three artists, who laid a foundation for the civil rights movement.
Who were these women? They were the choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus; the composer Mary Lou Williams, a key figure in the emergence of bebop; and the writer Ann Petry, whose chronicle of working class African American life, "The Street," sold over a million copies.
"Harlem Nocturne" was reviewed for The New York Times Book Review by the critic Nelson George, who found the book to be "a heartfelt tribute to three remarkable artists…devoted, Griffin writes, paraphrasing James Baldwin, "to helping this nation 'achieve' itself."
In "Miss Anne in Harlem," Carla Kaplan looks at a group of women, whose presence in the neighborhood was far more fraught: the white women who struggled to make a place for themselves during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, women commonly referred to as "Miss Anne."
Kaplan focuses on six women, including Mary White Ovington, a white founder of the NAACP.
But the book also includes those whose attraction to Harlem was more problematic, such as imperious patrons and figures like the British shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, who published an 850-page documentary record of the African diaspora and African American life, even though she’d made only brief trips to America and never been to Africa.
"Miss Anne in Harlem" was reviewed for The New York Times by Martha A. Sandweiss, who praised it as a "work of historical recovery [that] does well by a group of women who got so much wrong."
Find more reviews of new books in the New York Times Book Review at nytimes.com/books.