Public Media Arts Hub

The writings and activism of Black, bisexual feminist Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Transcript

John Yang: As we begin the final week of Pride Month, our series hidden histories takes a look at the bisexual black woman whose writing and activism advocated racial equality and women's suffrage at the turn of the 20th century.

Alice Dunbar Nelson wrote in many forms, short stories, essays and poetry, and is one of the few black female diaries the early 20th century she detailed her life work and loves, including clandestine romantic relationships with women.

Born Alice Moore in New Orleans in 1875. Her mother was a former enslaved woman. While her father's identity is disputed, scholars say he was likely white. Dunbar Nelson graduated from what's now known as Dillard University, a historically black school in New Orleans. She was one of the very few children of formerly enslaved people to go to college.

After a brief time teaching elementary school, she began her pursuit of a literary career. Her first collection of short stories and poetry, Violets and Other Tales, was published in 1895. It's regarded as the first known work of its kind by a black woman. She would continue to publish poetry and short stories throughout her life writing about racism and oppression, and challenging the conventions of gender and marriage.

Dunbar Nelson had three husbands including internationally acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, their short lived union was marked by physical and emotional abuse. She also had relationships with women, including journalist Fay M. Jackson, poet Helene Ricks London and educator Edwina Cruz, who once wrote to Dunbar Nelson, we were more than sisters.

Starting in the 1910s, Dunbar Nelson became involved in efforts for women's voting rights and to enact a anti lynching legislation.

In the 1920s, she turned to journalism, writing essays and articles that explored the issues she campaigned for activism that characterized the remainder of her life.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
+
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.