13 Apr 2022



Born in New Orleans in 1875 to a mother who was formerly enslaved and a father of questionable identity, Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a pioneering activist, writer, suffragist, and educator. Until now, Dunbar-Nelson has largely been viewed only in relation to her abusive ex-husband, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. This is the first book-length look at this major figure in Black women's history, covering her life from the post-reconstruction era through the Harlem Renaissance.

Tara T. Green builds on Black feminist, sexuality, historical and cultural studies to create a literary biography that examines Dunbar-Nelson's life and legacy as a respectable activist – a woman who navigated complex challenges associated with resisting racism and sexism, and who defined her sexual identity and sexual agency within the confines of respectability politics. It's a book about the past, but it's also a book about the present that nods to the future. ... Description

Published ... Dec 16 2021

Edition ... 1st

Extent ... 280

ISBN ... 9781501382338

Imprint ... Bloomsbury Academic

Publisher ... Bloomsbury Publishing

"I am of the latter class, what E.C. Adams in 'Nigger to Nigger' immortalizes in the poem, 'Brass Ankles.' White enough to pass for white, but with a darker family background, a real love for the mother race, and no desire to be numbered among the white race." ... First Sentence, Introduction {Introducing A Respectable Activist}

In Alice, spectators found a woman who was "humorous", "interesting", and "nearly always pretty", at least by her account and some of the doting men in her life. But she was a Black woman, the daughter of of a former slave and a man who seemed not to have married her mother; and thispresented challenges as racial history's impact on the present status of Black women could not be overlooked {pg 28/29} ... Memorable Moment 

Contacted by the charming Nanda of Coriolis, a company specialising in 'Providing Book Publicity, Author Branding, and Literary Services to Professors, Public Intellectuals, and Thought Leaders', I was only too happy to receive a copy of this, the 'first ever biography' about Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

Comprising the writings {both published and otherwise} of Alice herself along with the journals and letters exchanged between her, her husbands and various Black activists of the day and documents kept by her niece {what a heirloom}. Highlighting the development of the post slave trade, Black middle classes and indeed Alice her self's shift towards ever increasing anti-racist attitudes with an emphasis on Black identity, the book covers a lot of ground and can be a little daunting but, an important piece of social, of Black, of political, of feminist history, thankfully it was not the dry, academic piece I feared it might be but rather ...

The biography of a woman her life defined by not only her gender but by the very fact that she is a Black but 'white enough to pass for white' {pg 1}, a woman for whom, consistently overshadowed by her abusive first husband {the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar who, having raped her, goes on to convince her that to marry him is the only respectable thing to do} respectability is seemingly central to her decisions and yet something she came to war against.

I can't say that this is always a comfortable read and I can certainly see why some readers urge Trigger Warnings for rape and abuse both physical, sexual and emotional BUT, the author taking great pains to make sure the more sensitive, traumatic even, details of Alice's life are handled with the utmost sensitivity, meticulously researched, Love, Activism And The Respectable Life Of Alice Dunbar-Nelson is an accessible, illuminating and all too human account of the love, activism and life of a remarkable and complex woman who it has been truly fascinating getting to know.

About Tara T. Green ... My Black Southern family immersed me in a culture of storytelling as a condition of my birth. I learned about their deliberate embrace of laughter and love as they navigated the everyday challenges of being Black in America. Their gift of cultural practices is my inspiration as a professor, writer, and mentor.

Undoubtedly, my family inspired me to study the lives of Black folks through literature. I began my formal studies at Dillard University, where I was taught by professors who always seemed to enjoy being in the classroom. It was also there that I was selected to participate in a research mentoring program hosted by Duke University. That program taught me that I could pursue a career in studying the lives of Black folks. Today, I am a Black feminist community-engaged scholar, mentor, and university professor.

Follow Tara T. Green ... ~ Website ~ Instagram ~ Twitter

Read an extract


Kelly said...

This is a woman I'm not familiar with (nor her poet husband). It sounds like an interesting and informative book. I understand warning readers about certain topics, but in reality life is often uncomfortable.

nightwingsraven said...

This sounds like an important and
accessible biography about a truly
remarkable woman. Which I will
definitely keep in mind. And thank
you for your excellent review.

The Liberty Belle said...

Thank you for sharing such a good review.

Gina said...

I'm not familiar with this figure either, but it sounds like they managed to pull through some severely harrowing times.