Sunday, June 2, 2013

In February 1995 Dorothy West, the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance, published The Wedding, her first novel in 47 years. Hailed as a triumph by critics and readers alike, the book spent most of 1995 at the top of the Blackboard: African American Bestsellers and Quarterly Black Review of Books bestsellers lists, and was optioned by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films.

Set on a bucolic Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s, The Wedding tells the story of life in the Oval, a proud, insular community made up of the best and brightest of the East Coast's black bourgeoisie. Within this inner circle of "blue-vein society," we witness the prominent Coles family gather for the wedding of their loveliest daughter, Shelby, who could have chosen from "a whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions." Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to be married to Mead Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. A shock wave breaks over the Oval as its longtime members grapple with the changing face of its community.

Through a delicate interweaving of past and present, North and South, black and white, The Wedding unfolds outward from a single isolated time and place until it embraces five generations of an extraordinary American family. It is an audacious accomplishment, a monumental history of the rise of a black middle class, written by a woman who has lived it. Wise, heartfelt, and shattering, it is Dorothy West's crowning achievement.

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