Mary Helen Washington
Mary Helen Washington (born January 21, 1941, in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American literary scholar. She is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Department of English. Washington is a past president of the American Studies Association.
 She is the author of several books of literary and cultural criticism, including The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s. Her book Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860–1960 was a New York Times “Best Book of the Year”. She has contributed to the PBS documentary series American Experience.
She is the 1988 recipient of the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and has received honorary Doctorate degrees from Bridgewater State College, Emmanuel College, Notre Dame College, Regis College, and Marygrove College.
Washington has also written many Forewords and Introductions to books by others.
Virago. Brit version of Midnight Birds?
From School Library Journal
YA– This collection of 19 stories, 12 poems, and 15 critical commentaries offers YAs a fertile field to explore when they think about the concept of family. Shattering the myth of the ideal family, these pieces deal with the ever-shifting struggles of American blacks to maintain family patterns . Probing black traditions, cultural patterns, and dialects, the writers paint pictures of as many different families as there are stories and poems in this volume. While most of the selections are from a female viewpoint, readers do have opportunities to see the experience of the black male as well. Students of all ethnic origins will better understand the storyof American blacks if they listen to the voices Washington has assembled here.-– Margaret C. Nolan, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
From Library Journal
This is an anthology of short stories and poems by black writers that allows readers to challenge their traditional views of the family. Works by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Rita Dove, Charles Chesnutt, and Paule Marshall show readers how to deal with familial tensions and how to appreciate their own kin. As Washington notes in her introduction, “The story of family has inspired some of the very best writing by black writers.” Hers is a refreshing approach that will leave readers full of emotion and an unsatisfied yearning for more.— Gayle S. Leach, Wayne State Univ. Lib., Detroit
A wonderful combination of careful research, adept historicizing, and insightful close reading. Mary Helen Washington’s book brings needed critical attention to understudied figures and helps readers rethink the careers of others whom they believe they already know. (James Smethurst, author of The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance and The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s)
[A] compelling look at artists and writers who became part of the vanguard of the progressive politics and civil rights movement of the 1960s. (Booklist (starred review))
Groundbreaking…thought-provoking. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
Well-thought, highly readable and timely. (Huffington Post)
Washington builds a strong and much-needed case against purely aesthetic interpretations of 1950s African American literature. Highly recommended. (CHOICE)
Insightful, densely researched, and engaging Washington resoundingly demonstrates the importance of the Black Popular Front to the postwar black literary tradition. (Women’s Review of Books)
Washington’s brilliant, intimate and highly readable new book capstones an important era of post-Cold War scholarship of the legacy of American Communism and African American literature no book in recent memory more boldly confronts and dismantles the political apparatus of literary commemoration. (Solidarity)
Washington’s excellent book contributes powerfully to a strand of scholarship that is transforming our understanding of post-World War II American intellectual and cultural history… Deeply researched, persuasively argued, and much-needed. (Journal of American History)
As literary and cultural history, Washington’s book offers a vast resource… Readers who are eager to place the postwar period in the context of 1930s and ’40s historiography of the left as well as the period of black nationalism that followed in the 1960s will rejoice in these pages. (The Los Angeles Review of Books)
Well-researched, informative, illuminating… By challenging the standard Cold War narrative of Communist Party irrelevance and isolation, The Other Blacklist not only promotes radical African American cultural production in the 1950’s, it also highlights the very real internal and external pressures faced by communists and their allies. (People’s World)
Considering that any effort to achieve racial equality was viewed as subversive in the Cold War era, is it any wonder that so many black artists and writers were viewed as Communists? Yet very little has been written about the black artists and writers who were surveilled, investigated, and blacklisted because of their beliefs and their work. Literary scholar Washington remedies that neglect with this engrossing look at six artists. Though some were Communist Party members and others not, they were all drawn to the Left’s appreciation of black folk culture and support for the ideal of self-determination, themes that figured prominently in their work. Washington profiles novelist and essayist Lloyd L. Brown, visual artist Charles White, playwright and novelist Alice Childress, poet and novelist Gwendolyn Brooks, novelist Frank London Brown, and novelist and activist Julian Mayfield. Tapping archival material, biographies, interviews, and FBI files, Washington examines his subjects’ aesthetic and relationships with other writers and artists and the black community as well as their frustrations with and ambivalent feelings about the Left. Photographs of the artists and their works and pages from FBI files enhance this compelling look at artists and writers who became part of the vanguard of the progressive politics and civil rights movement of the 1960s. –Vanessa Bush, Booklist, Starred Review
“If there is a single distinguishing feature of the literature of black women–and this accounts for their lack of recognition–it is this: their writing is about black women; it takes the trouble to record the thoughts, words, feelings, and deeds of black women, experiences that make the realities of being black in America look very different from what men have written. There are no women in this tradition hibernating in dark holes contemplating their invisibility; there are no women dismembering bodies or crushing skulls of either women or men; and few, if any, women in the literature of black women succeed in heroic quests without the support of other women or men in their communities.”–Mary Helen Washington
[From: Detroit Free Press 1990]