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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Sep 18, 2013

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KGNU's Claudia Cragg speaks here with the celebrated scholar Carla Kaplan’s on her cultural biography, Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance. The book focuses with vivid prose, extensive research, and period photographs on white women, collectively called “Miss Anne,” who became Harlem Renaissance insiders.

It is largely the story of unconventional, free-thinking women, some from Manhattan high society, many Jewish, who crossed race lines and defied social conventions to become a part of the culture and heartbeat of Harlem. New York City in the Jazz Age was host to a pulsating artistic and social revolution. Uptown, an unprecedented explosion in black music, literature, dance, and art sparked the Harlem Renaissance. While the history of this African-American awakening has been widely explored, one chapter remains untold: the story of a group of women collectively dubbed "Miss Anne."

Sexualized and sensationalized in the mainstream press—portrayed as monstrous or insane—Miss Anne was sometimes derided within her chosen community of Harlem as well. While it was socially acceptable for white men to head uptown for "exotic" dancers and "hot" jazz, white women who were enthralled by life on West 125th Street took chances. Miss Anne in Harlemintroduces these women—many from New York's wealthiest social echelons—who became patrons of, and romantic participants in, the Harlem Renaissance. They include Barnard College founder Annie Nathan Meyer, Texas heiress Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, British activist Nancy Cunard, philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason, educator Lillian E. Wood, and novelist Fannie Hurst—all women of accomplishment and renown in their day. Yet their contributions as hostesses, editors, activists, patrons, writers, friends, and lovers often went unacknowledged and have been lost to history until now.