Marita Bonner (June 16, 1899 – 1971) (also known as Marieta Bonner) was an American writer, essayist, and playwright who is commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was also known as Marita Occomy, Marita Odette Bonner, Marita Odette Bonner Occomy, Marita Bonner Occomy, Joseph Maree Andrew. On December 29, 1921 along with 15 other women, she chartered the Iota Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Marita Bonner was born in Boston to Joseph and Anne Noel Bonner. She was one of four children and lived in a middle-class community in Massachusetts. Marita attended Brookline High School, where she contributed to the school magazine, The Sagamore. She excelled in German and Music, and was a very talented pianist. In 1917, she graduated from Brookline High School and in 1918 enrolled in Radcliffe College, where she commuted to campus because many African-American students were denied dormitory accommodation. In college she majored in English and Comparative Literature, while continuing to study German and musical composition. In addition to her studies, Bonner was a charter member of a chapter of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta, and taught at a high school in Cambridge.
After finishing her schooling in 1922, she continued to teach at Bluefield Colored Institute in West Virginia. Two years later, she took on a position at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C., until 1930, during which time her mother and father both died suddenly. While in Washington, Bonner became closely associated with poet, playwright, and composer Georgia Douglas Johnson. Johnson's "S" street salon was an important meeting place for many of the writers and artists who were involved in the New Negro Renaissance. While living in Washington, Marita met William Almy Occomy. They married and moved to Chicago, where Bonner's writing career took off. She began teaching again in the 1940s and finally retired in 1963.
Bonner died in 1971 from smoke-inhalation complications at a hospital after her apartment caught fire. She was 73.
Throughout her life, Bonner wrote many short stories, essays, and plays. After her parents' death, Bonner wrote her first essay, "On Being Young–A Woman–And Colored", which addressed the negative conditions that black Americans, especially black women, had to endure during this time. This essay was published in 1925 and encourages black women not to dwell on their problems but to outsmart negative situations. Bonner also wrote several short stories from 1925 to 1927. "The Prison-Bound", "Nothing New", "One Boy's Story" and "Drab Rambles". Bonner also wrote three plays, "Pot Maker," "The Purple Flower - A Play" and "Exit, an Illusion". Her most famous play was "The Purple Flower" which portrays black liberation. Many of Bonner's later works, such as "Light in Dark Places", dealt with poverty, poor housing, and color discrimination in the black communities, and shows the influence that the urban environment as on black communities. Bonner is one of the many frequently unrecognized black female writers of the Harlem Renaissance who resisted the universalizing, essentialist tendencies by focusing on atypical women rather than on an archetypal man, such as the New Negro," which can be seen in her earliest works.
After marrying Occomy, Bonner began to write under her married name. Her short stories explored a multicultural universe filled with people drawn by the promises of urban life. After 1941, Bonner gave up publishing her works and devoted her time to her family.
Influences on the Harlem Renaissance
Bonner contributed a variety of things to the Harlem Renaissance. Her writings addressed the struggles of people who lived outside of Harlem. Her greatest involvement was her emphasis on claiming a strong racial and gender identity. She argued against sexism and racism and advised other black women to remain silent in order to gain understanding, knowledge, and truth to fight the oppressions of race and gender. She also encouraged African Americans to use the weapons of knowledge, teaching, and writing to overcome inequalities. Unlike most Renaissance writers, she focused her writings on issues in and around Chicago. Several of Bonner's short stories addressed the barriers that African-American women faced when they attempted to follow the Harlem Renaissance's call for self-improvement through education and issues surrounding discrimination, religion, family, and poverty.
Although she wasn't often appreciated during her time and even today, perhaps one of Bonner's greatest contributions to the Harlem Renaissance was her emphasis on claiming not only a racial identity, but a gendered one as well. Bonner's works focused on the historical specificity of her time and place rather than the universality of an idealized African past.
In more recent years, critical exploration of Marita Bonner has noticeably diminished. Criticisms of Bonner's work was at its peak in the late 1980s and seems to have slowed. Modern critics may be putting Bonner on the back burner because it's seen that she's been dealt with fairly thoroughly; however, her readership has declined and so has the importance of her message of intersectionality, specifically the black female experience in the early 20th century.
Xoregos Performing Company did the premiere of Exit, an Illusion in its 2015 program Harlem Remembered. Cast: Tatiana Owens, Odysseus Bailer and Spadaque Volcimus. Costumes: Raiza Pena. Music Director and Pianist: Clark Baxtresser. Directed and Choreographed by Shela Xoregos. Nine shows February 14–28, 2015 in NYC, Yonkers and Newburgh (all in NY state). Xoregos Performing Company repeated Exit, an Illusion with a different cast in its Songs of the Harlem River program in NYC's Dream Up Festival, August 30-September 6, 2015. Songs of the Harlem River will open the Langston Hughes Festival in Queens, NY on February 13, 2016.
- "The Hands - A Story." Opportunity 3 (August 1925): 235-37.
- "The Prison-Bound." Crisis 32 (September 1926): 225-26.
- "Nothing New." Crisis 33 (November 1926): 17-20.
- "One Boy's Story." Crisis 34 (November 1927): 297-99, 316-20 (pseudonym: Joseph Maree Andrew).
- "Drab Rambles." Crisis 34 (December 1927): 335-36, 354-56.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part One." Opportunity 11 (July 1933): 205-07.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Two: Of Jimmie Harris." Opportunity 11 (August 1933): 242-44.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Three: Three Tales of Living Corner Store." Opportunity 11 (September 1933): 269-71.
- "Tin Can." Opportunity 12 (July 1934): 202-205, (August 1934): 236-40.
- " A Sealed Pod." Opportunity 14 (March 1936): 88-91.
- "Black Fronts." Opportunity 16 (July 1938): 210-14.
- "Hate is Nothing." Crisis 45 (December 1938): 388-90, 394, 403-04 (pseudonym: Joyce M. Reed).
- "The Makin's." Opportunity 17 (January 1939): 18-21.
- "The Whipping." Crisis 46 (January 1939): 172-74.
- "Hongry Fire." Crisis 46 (December 1939): 360-62, 376-77.
- "Patch Quilt." Crisis 47 (March 1940): 71, 72, 92.
- "One True Love." Crisis 48 (February 1941): 46-47, 58-59.
- "The Young Blood Hungers." Crisis 35 (May 1928): 151, 172.
- "Review of Autumn Love Cycle, by Georgia Douglas Johnson." Opportunity 7 (April 1929): 130.
- "The Pot-Maker (A Play to be Read)". Opportunity 5 (February 1927): 43-46.
- "Exit - An Illusion". Crisis 36 (October 1929): 335-36, 352.
- African American
- African American culture
- African American history
- African American literature
- List of African-American writers
- Flynn, Joyce, and Joyce O. Stricklin. Frye Street and Environs: the Collected Works of Marita Bonner. Boston: Beacon, 1987.
- Hine, Darlene C., ed. Black Women in America, an Historical Encyclopedia. Brooklyn: Carlson Inc., 1993. 15 April 2007.
- Kent, Alicia. Race, Gender, and Comparative. Legacy, 2001. Volume 28. Issue 1. Page 141 - 143.
- "PAL: Marita Bonner (1898-1971)".archive.csustan.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-24.
- Marita Bonner Papers, 1940-1986: A Finding Aid.Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- "Marita Odette Bonner." VG: Voices From the Gaps - Women Writers and Artists of Color. 2006. University of Minnesota. 15 April 2007.
- Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Marita Bonner." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - a Research and Reference Guide - an Ongoing Project. 15 April 2007.