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The Black Renaissance in Washington, DC, 1910-1937
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Marita O. Bonner
short story writer, essayist and playwright

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1899, short story writer, essayist, and playwright, Marita O. Bonner was one of four children born to Joseph and Mary Anne Bonner. Educated in the public schools of the Boston suburb, Brookline, Marita excelled in academic affairs, music, writing and the German language.


• Enrolled in Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, majoring in English and Comparative Literature.

• Completed a highly competitive writing seminar and embarked on her writing career.

• Won the Radcliffe University Songwriting competition.

• Commenced her lifelong vocation of teaching at the high school level as a teacher at Cambridge High School in Boston.

1922 - 1924

• Taught at Bluefield Colored High School in Washington, DC metropolitan area.

• Befriended by playwright Georgia Douglas Johnson whose home at 1461 S Street was an important gathering place for many notable black writers who resided in or visited Washington during the 1920’s.


• Began a six-year teaching career at Armstrong Colored High School, the first manual training school for African-Americans in Washington, which closed its doors in 1996.

• Published an autobiographical essay entitled "On Being Young – A Woman – and Colored" in Crisis, the magazine of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In this essay, she discusses themes that would concern her all her life and run throughout later writings: the plight of Blacks, women, race relations and segregation that forced blacks of all classes to live side by side.

• Published a short story entitled "The Hands."

• Lived at 1805 2nd Street, NW, one of a succession of addresses at which she resided in the LeDroit Park section of Washington, a neighborhood favored by many of Washington's black writers, teachers and other professionals. esidents of this area included Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Alain Locke.


• Published two short stories, "The Prison-Bound" and "Nothing New," both of which appeared in the Crisis.


• Published a play, The Pot Maker. A Play to Be Read.

• Published two short stories, "One Boy's Story" and "Drab Rambles," in Crisis.


• Published a play, The Purple Flower, to rave reviews. Considered by many to be her best work, this play delves into the subject of race relations in America.

• Published an essay entitled "The Young Blood Hungers."

• Published a short story, "Drab Rambles," whose main protagonist has literally worked himself to death.


• Published a one-act play, "Exit an Illusion," that explores the subject of light-skinned blacks "passing" for white.

• Moved to a second location in LeDroit Park just four blocks away at 2201 2nd Street, NW.

1930- 1970

• Married an accountant, William Occomy, and moved to Chicago to continue teaching, writing and, more importantly, to raise a family of three children.


• Died in Chicago as a result of injuries suffered during a fire in her apartment.

Selected Bibliography of Marita Bonner

Berg, Allison and Taylor, Merideth. "Enacting Difference: Marita Bonner’s ‘Purple Flower’ and the Ambiguities of Race." African American Review (Fall 1998): 468-481.

Bonnor, Marita. "The Purple Flower." In Crisis. New York: Crisis Publishing Company, 1928.

Brown-Guillon, Elizabeth B. "Marita Bonner." In Black Women in America: Literature, ed. Darlene Clark Hine, 35-36. New York: Facts on File, 1997.

Cliff-Pellow, Arlene. "Marita Bonner Occomy." In Notable Black American Women, Book II, ed. Jessie Carney Smith, 503-505. Detroit: Gale, l996.

Dandridge, Rita B. Black Women’s Blues: A Literary Anthology. New York: GK Hall, 1992.

Dillon, Kim J. "Marita Bonner." In The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, ed. William L. Andrews, et. al., 90-91. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Flynn, Joyce and Stricklin, Joyce O., eds. Frye Street and Environs: The Collected Works of Marita Bonner. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.

Gates, Jr., Henry L. and McKay, Nellie Y., eds. Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1997.

Malinowski, Sharon, ed. Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 1994.

Perkins, Kathy, A., ed. Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays Before 1950. 1st ed. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Press, 1990.

Spradling, Mary M., ed. In Black and White Supplement: A Guide to Magazine Articles, Newspaper Articles, and Books Concerning more than 6,700 Black Individuals and Groups. Detroit: Gale, 1985.

Wall, Cheryl. A. Women of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Press, 1995.

Core CollectionWilson, Sondra K., ed. The Crisis Reader: Stories, Poetry and Essays from the N.A.A.C.P.’s Crisis Magazine. New York: Random House, 1989.

Manuscripts and letters are held by the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College (Harvard University), Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Selected Papers in Special Collections

Manuscripts and letters are held by the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College (Harvard University), Cambridge, Massachusetts


Karen Blackman-Mills, Reference Librarian
Washingtoniana Division

Titles marked Core Collection are included in the Core Collection of Harlem Renaissance Books at the Libraries.

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The Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C., 1920-1930s
http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/ | last updated June 20, 2003