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Products for grant FT-254697-17

Cultures of Reading in the Black Chicago Renaissance
Mary Unger, Ripon College

Grant details:

The Book Circle: Women Readers of the Black Chicago Renaissance (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Book Circle: Women Readers of the Black Chicago Renaissance
Author: Mary I. Unger
Abstract: This essay considers the literary taste of African American women readers of the Black Chicago Renaissance during the 1940s. Perhaps the most popular group of these readers was The Book Circle, a local reading club that ran from 1943 through 1993 on the city’s South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. Organized by and for African American women during World War II to “boost morale,” The Book Circle met monthly to discuss current works by Bronzeville authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright. This reading group documented its activities in meticulous records—including constitutions, agendas, photographs, meeting minutes, and scrapbooks—that give insight into their reading habits, reception practices, and literary taste. By analyzing these archival materials in the context of the literature the group read, I illustrate how central the social practices of community reading on the South Side were to writers such as Brooks and Wright. This essay thus offers a detailed assessment of the relationship between private book circles in Bronzeville and some of the neighborhood’s most famous writers and texts. In so doing, it also attempts to correct what Elizabeth McHenry has called “the historical invisibility of black readers.” Indeed, while the work of McHenry, Joycelyn Moody, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Eric Gardner, and other scholars who recover forgotten African American literary communities has focused primarily on eighteenth-and nineteenth-century reading practices, this essay restores an important visibility of twentieth-century black readers, thus recognizing the influence of literary reception outside the academy in the mid twentieth century.
Date: 09/22/2017
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Home page for the Reception Study Society 2017 conference
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Program for the 2017 Reception Study Society conference
Conference Name: Reception Study Society