This born-digital critical biography aims to document artist and writer Gwendolyn Bennett’s pivotal role in the Harlem Renaissance. The website—the multimedia equivalent of a scholarly book—will present a series of “scenes” that illuminate significant moments in her life, art, and writings. This scenic structure reflects the fragmentary nature of Bennett’s corpus and the gaps in the record of her life story. Using digital storytelling, inclusive UX (user experience) design, and interactive exhibits, this website aims to draw you into Bennett’s work and encourage you to participate in the larger, ongoing project of centering women of color in American cultural histories.
I approach Bennett’s creative expression as acts of joy and defiance that challenge how Black bodies were represented in the White-dominated, verbal-visual economies of modernity. My methodology is informed by Black feminist scholars Hazel Carby, Saidiya Hartman, and Heather Williams, who mobilize personal histories, archival fragments, and literary imagination to resurrect the lives and aspirations of Black women who have been marginalized in the historical record.
As a white scholar inspired by their approaches, I face the dangers of appropriation, false-identification, and exploitation. To ameliorate these risks, I will engage the work of Black feminist scholars, answering their call to study Black women writers within intersectional contexts; apply insights from Critical Race Theory, such as bell hooks’ insistence that white people see ourselves as other, as the object of a Black gaze; and take lessons from Black Digital Humanities, treating people of color as collaborators in the production of knowledge. To involve Black people as co-creators, I will cite and engage with Black scholars and theorists; incorporate the voices of Bennett’s family members; conduct user-testing with diverse users; and practice inclusive UX design to create an interactive environment that invites users to contribute ideas and make connections to current issues.
Following the practice of the New York Times, I capitalize “Black” to refer to people and cultures of African origin or descent because doing so conveys respect for a “shared history and identity”; I use lowercase “white” because “there is less of a sense that ‘white’ describes a shared culture and history. Moreover, hate groups and white supremacists have long favored the uppercase style, which in itself is reason to avoid it.”1“Uppercasing ‘Black.’” The New York Times Company, 30 June 2020, https://www.nytco.com/press/uppercasing-black/.