Bronzeville’s Books: Cultures of Reading in the Black Chicago Renaissance

My current book project focuses on the print culture of Bronzeville, Chicago’s South Side neighborhood that became a center of black cultural work after Harlem.

Based on five years of archival research, Bronzeville’s Books: Cultures of Reading in the Black Chicago Renaissance uncovers a network of relationships between individual black readers, community organizations, book clubs, settlement houses, and even local businesses that shaped literary tastes and texts from the 1930s through the early 1950s. By reassembling a dynamic ecosystem of reading societies, this project reveals the South Side of Chicago as a community of active readers who cultivated particular tastes through collective acts of reading and reception.

In the process, Bronzeville’s Books demonstrates how Chicago’s South Side influenced both individual authors—such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright—as well as the norms and expectations of African American literature more broadly. Moreover, it restores an important visibility of twentieth-century black readers on Chicago’s South Side—particularly women—who were central in forming an emerging black middle class and popular black middlebrow culture in the years surrounding WWII.