Marita Bonner

Marita Bonner (née Marita Odette Bonner; married name Marita Odette Bonner Occomy. June 16, 1899 – December 7, 1971) was an African-American writer.

She attended Brookline High School in Boston, and entered Radcliffe College in 1918, where she was not allowed to live in campus dormitories due to the colour of her skin. At Radcliffe, Bonner majored in Comparative Literature and English, and also studied German, music composition, and creative writing. She was a member of a number of musical clubs, won the Radcliffe song competition twice, and founded the Radcliffe chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority.

After graduating from Radcliffe, in 1922, Bonner started working as a teacher at Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, West Virginia.  In 1924, she took a teaching position in Washington, D.C., at Armstrong High School.

While in Washington, D.C., she attended Georgia Douglas Johnson‘s famous “S” Street Salon, a cultural gathering that served as a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance intellectuals. There, she met Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, among others.

Bonner’s first publication was the short story “The Hands”, published in Opportunity in 1925. She went on to become a regular contributor to both Opportunity and Crisis magazine, where she published short stories, essays, reviews, and plays, until 1941. She also wrote under the pen name Joseph Maree Andrew.

One of her best-known essays, “On Being Young — A Woman —And Colored”, was published in Crisis in December 1925 – and its title may have inspired Lorraine Hansberry’s expression “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”.

You start out after you have gone from kindergarten to sheepskin covered with sundry Latin phrases. At least you know what you want life to give you. A career as fixed and as calmly brilliant as the North Star. The one real thing that money buys. Time. Time to do things. A house that can be as delectably out of order and as easily put in order as the doll-house of “playing-house” days. And of course, a husband you can look up to without looking down on yourself. Somehow you feel like a kitten in a sunny catnip field that sees sleek, plump brown field mice and yellow baby chicks sitting coyly, side by side, under each leaf. A desire to dash three or for ways seizes you. That’s Youth. But you know that things learned need testing–acid testing–to see if they are really after all, an interwoven part of you.” – Marita Bonner, “On Being Young—A Woman—And Colored,” Crisis, December 31, 1925

The essay addressed the discrimination faced by black women, and called on them to rely on their resilience. Bonner also explored the topic of intersectionality, discussing the question of belonging to two oppressed groups – a “group within a group” -, as a black woman.

Why do they see a colored woman only as a gross collection of desires, all uncontrolled, reaching out for the Apollos and the Quasimodos with avid indiscrimination? Why unless you talk in staccato squawks – brittle as seashells – unless you champ gum – unless you cover two yards square when you laugh—unless your taste runs to violent colors—impossible perfumes and more impossible clothes—are you a feminine Caliban craving to pass for Ariel? An empty imitation of an empty invitation” – Marita Bonner, “On Being Young—A Woman—And Colored,” Crisis, December 31, 1925

Sometime in the late 1920’s, Bonner met William Almy Occomy, a MBA graduate from Boston University, and they married in 1930. The couple moved to Chicago in 1931 and had three children.

In 1941, Bonner abandoned writing to care for her children. She returned to teaching and worked at Phillips High School in Chicago, until her retirement in 1963.

Bonner died on December 7, 1971 of complications from smoke inhalation after her Chicago apartment caught fire.

Books

Collected Works

  • Frye Street & environs: the collected works of Marita Bonner, ed. Joyce Flynn and Joyce Occomy Stricklin (1987)

Short Stories

  • “The Hands – A Story.” Opportunity3 (Aug 1925): 235-237.
  • “The Prison-Bound.” Crisis32 (Sep 1926): 225-226.
  • “Nothing New.” Crisis33 (Nov 1926): 17-20.
  • “One Boy’s Story.” Crisis34 (Nov 1927): 297-299, 316-320 (pseudonym used Joseph Maree Andrew).
  • “Drab Rambles.” Crisis34 (Dec 1927): 335-336, 354-356.
  • “A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part One.” Opportunity11 (Jul 1933): 205-207.
  • “A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Two: Of Jimmie Harris.” Opportunity11 (Aug 1933): 242-244.
  • “A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Three: Three Tales of Living Corner Store.” Opportunity11 (Sep 1933): 269-271.
  • “Tin Can.” Opportunity12 (Jul 1934): 202-205, (Aug 1934): 236-240.
  • “A Sealed Pod.” Opportunity14 (Mar 1936): 88-91.
  • “Black Fronts.” Opportunity16 (Jul 1938): 210-214.
  • “Hate is Nothing.” Crisis45 (Dec 1938): 388-390, 394, 403-404 (pseudonym used Joyce M. Reed).
  • “The Makin’s.” Opportunity17 (Jan 1939): 18-21.
  • “The Whipping.” Crisis46 (Jan 1939): 172-174.
  • “Hungry Fire.” Crisis46 (Dec 1939): 360-362, 376-377.
  • “Patch Quilt.” Crisis 47 (Mar 1940): 71, 72, 92.
  • “One True Love.” Crisis48 (February 1941): 46-47, 58-59.

Essays

  • “On Being Young – A Woman – and Colored.” Crisis31 (Dec. 1925): 63-65.
  • “The Young Blood Hungers.” Crisis35 (May 1928): 151, 172.
  • “Review of Autumn Love Cycle, by Georgia Douglas Johnson.” Opportuntiy7 (Apr 1929): 130.

Plays

  • The Pot-Maker (A Play to be Read). Opportunity 5 (Feb 1927): 43-46.
  • The Purple Flower. Crisis 35 (Jan 1928): 202-07.
  • Exit – An Illusion. Crisis36 (Oct 1929): 335-336,352.
  • Bonner is credited with having written another play, Muddled Dream, which is now lost.

Anthologies

  • Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950, ed. Kathy A. Perkins (1990)
  • Wines in the Wilderness: Plays by African-American Women from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present, ed. Elizabeth Brown-Guillory (1990)
  • Calling the wind: twentieth century African-American short stories, ed. Clarence Major (1993)
  • The Sleeper Wakes: Harlem Renaissance Stories by Women, ed. Marcy Knopf (1993)
  • Revolutionary tales: African American women’s short stories, from the first story to the present, ed.  Bill Mullen (1995)
  • Modern drama by women, 1880s-1930s: an international anthology, ed. Katherine E. Kelly (1996)

About

  • Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940, ed. Trudier Harris, vol. 51 (1987)
  • “Marita Bonner: In Search of Other Mothers’ Gardens”, by Lorraine Elena Roses and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph, Black American Literature Forum, vol. 21, no. 1/2, 1987, pp. 165–183.
  • Harlem Renaissance and Beyond, by Lorraine Elena Roses (1990)
  • Daughters of Africa, ed. Margaret Busby (1992)
  • Women of the Harlem Renaissance, by Cheryl A.  Wall (1995)
  • Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States, ed. Linda Wagner-Martin, Cathy Davidson (1995)
  • Harlem’s Glory: Black Women Writing, 1900-1950, ed. Lorraine Elena Roses and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph (1996)
  • American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Laurie Champion (2000)

3 thoughts on “Marita Bonner

  1. This is literally impressive. The amount of research you did on this blew my mind. I love how detailed you were, and I sincerely learned some new things from this post. Thank you so much for this!

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