Marita Bonner (June 16, 1899 – 1971) (also known as Marieta Bonner) was an African 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.
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 also was a very talented pianist and excelled in Music and German. In 1918, she graduated from Brookline High School and enrolled in Radcliffe College where she commuted to campus because many African American students were denied dormitory accommodations. While in college she majored in English and Comparative Literature. In addition to her majors, she continued 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, Bonner 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. While teaching at Armstrong High school, Bonner's mother and father both died suddenly. While in Washington, Maria 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. Bonner and Occomy got 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 to dwell on their problems but to outsmart negative situations. Bonner also wrote several short stories from 1925-1927. "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. 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 quit publishing her works and devoted her time to her family.
Bonner's Influences on the Harlem Renaissance
Bonner contributed a variety of things to the Harlem Renaissance. Her writings addressed the struggles of people that 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 the mentioned prejudices (there were and still are many) of this time. 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.
- "The Hands - A Story." Opportunity 3 (Aug 1925): 235-237.
- "The Prison-Bound." Crisis 32 (Sep 1926): 225-226.
- "Nothing New." Crisis 33 (Nov 1926): 17-20.
- "One Boy's Story." Crisis 34 (Nov 1927): 297-299, 316-320 (pseudonym used Joseph Maree Andrew).
- "Drab Rambles." Crisis 34 (Dec 1927): 335-336, 354-356.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part One." Opportunity 11 (Jul 1933): 205-207.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Two:Of Jimmie Harris." Opportunity 11 (Aug 1933): 242-244.
- "A Possible Triad of Black Notes, Part Three:Three Tales of Living Corner Store." Opportunity 11 (Sep 1933): 269-271.
- "Tin Can." Opportunity 12 (Jul 1934): 202-205, (Aug 1934): 236-240.
- " A Sealed Pod." Opportunity 14 (Mar 1936): 88-91.
- "Black Fronts." Opportunity 16 (Jul 1938): 210-214.
- "Hate is Nothing." Crisis 45 (Dec 1938): 388-390, 394, 403-404 (pseudonym used Joyce M. Reed).
- "The Makin's." Opportunity 17 (Jan 1939): 18-21.
- "The Whipping." Crisis 46 (Jan 1939): 172-174.
- "Hongry Fire." Crisis 46 (Dec 1939): 360-362, 376-377.
- "Patch Quilt." Crisis 47 (Mar 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." Opportuntiy 7 (Apr 1929): 130.
- The Pot-Maker (A Play to be Read). Opportunity 5 (Feb 1927): 43-46.
- Exit - An Illusion. Crisis 36 (Oct 1929): 335-336,352.
- 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 Apr. 2007.
- "Marita Odette Bonner." VG: Voices From the Gaps. 2006. University of Minnesota. 15 Apr. 2007 <http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/bonner_marita_odette.html>.
- Reuben, Paul. "Chapter 9: Marita Bonner." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - a Research and Reference Guide - an Ongoing Project. 15 Apr. 2007 <http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap9/bonner.html>.
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