"Gwendolyn Bennett, Sara West, Louise Jefferson, Augusta Savage, Eleanor Roosevelt" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937.

This website

Still under construction, 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 recreate a series of “scenes” that illuminate significant moments in her life, art, and writings. The site 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—women like the four African American women pictured below, who worked with the W.P.A. Federal Art Project to establish the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937. You may not recognize them, but the tall woman on the right may look more familiar. She’s Eleanor Roosevelt, and she attended the grand opening and was so impressed by the Harlem Community Arts Center that she used it as a model for art centers around the U.S.

"Gwendolyn Bennett, Sara West, Louise Jefferson, Augusta Savage, Eleanor Roosevelt" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937.
“Gwendolyn Bennett, Sara West, Louise Jefferson, Augusta Savage, Eleanor Roosevelt.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937.

This website approaches Bennett’s creative works, which crossed genres and media, as acts of joy and defiance that challenge how Black bodies are represented in the white-dominated, verbal-visual economies of modernity. This 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, dignity, and aspirations of Black women who have been marginalized in the historical record. 

Building on the research of these and other scholars, this website presents scenes from the life of a talented, versatile, and resilient Black woman artist as she struggled to achieve a fulfilling career and marriage in the first half of the twentieth century. These scenes follow Bennett’s quest to craft a life that was joyful, creative, and loving within an intersectional labyrinth of racism, sexism, and class constraints.

As a white scholar writing about a Black artist, I face the dangers of appropriation, false-identification, and exploitation. To offset these risks, I build upon 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 cite and engage with Black scholars and theorists; incorporate the voices of Bennett and her family members; conduct user-testing with diverse users; and practice inclusive UX design to create an interactive environment that allows readers multiple pathways for exploring and engaging with Bennett’s work and life story.

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/.

This non-commercial website is intended for educational purposes only. The material used here has been gathered in good faith according to fair use standards with full citations of all sources. For best practices in fair use, I have consulted:

I am grateful to libraries and digital archives that have made their collections freely available to scholars. In particular I would like to thank the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library for use of their Digital Collections, as well the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Davidson College Library for their resources and expertise.

Whenever possible, I have attempted to secure permissions for any material that exceeds “fair use” standards or is protected by copyright. In some instances, it can be difficult to determine who, if anyone, holds the rights to materials or artifacts. In such instances, text and images will be considered on loan until someone objects. If you own the rights to something published here and would like it removed or cited differently, please contact me using the form below.

Citation Guidelines

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, which means that you are free to share and adapt any material on this site, provided that:

  1. You provide an attribution to this site;
  2. The material is not copyrighted by someone else.

Some materials on this site are held in copyright by others. Should you wish to use or adapt these copyrighted materials, you must seek permission from the original copyright holders:

  • Information about copyright holders may be found in the WATCH File.

To cite or provide attribution to this site, please use the following format (following MLA Style):

  • For the entire site:  Suzanne W. Churchill. Envisioning the Harlem Renaissance: Scenes from the Life & Work of Gwendolyn Bennett. Davidson College, 2022. https://gwendolynbennett.suzannechurchill.com/. Accessed [day-month-year].
  • For a single scene, post, or page: Suzanne W. Churchill. [“Title.”] 
  • Envisioning the Harlem Renaissance: Scenes from the Life & Work of Gwendolyn Bennett. Davidson College, 2022. [URL of specific page or post]. Accessed [day-month-year].

Site Architect

Professor of English at Davidson College, Suzanne W. Churchill is the author of The Little Magazine Others & the Renovation of Modern American Poetry (Ashgate 2006); co-editor, with Adam McKible, of Little Magazines & Modernism: new approaches (Ashgate 2007); and author and illustrator of the children’s book Dinosaurs Drive Firetrucks (Britt Stadig Studio 2018). She has published on modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and on periodicals, poetry, and pedagogy in various journals and collections. Founder and editor of the website, Index of Modernist Magazines (modernistmagazines.org), she is co-creator of the award-winning, open-access, online scholarly book, Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde (mina-loy.com).