Date of Publication:
Mar. 1934 – Fall 1937
Place(s) of Publication:
Boston, MA; New York, NY
Frequency of Publication:
Quarterly (somewhat irregularly)
The Boston Chronicle
Approx. 50 pages (New Challenge is 94). Cover with single-color print on colored paper (changing by the issue). The cover design is minimalistic, emphasizing the title and contributors. Common segments include short stories, songs, and a “Dear Reader” section.
15 Cents (later raised to 25 cents)
Marian Minus (Associate Editor)
Richard Wright (Associate Editor)
Libraries with Original Issues:
Harvard University, New York Public Library, Library of Congress
University of North Carolina, Smithsonian Libraries, University of Michigan, Library of Congress
Challenge, founded by Dorothy West in 1934, began with the goal of giving “younger negro writers” a platform to share their voices, writings, and perspectives. As James Weldon Johnson wrote in the first issue’s foreword, “[Young black artists] can bring to bear a tremendous force for breaking down and wearing away the stereotyped ideas about the negro” (Johnson 2). And to do this, Johnson added that writers need not be propagandists, but sincere artists. With this plan for the platform, early issues of Challenge included works by Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes, Lucia Mae Pitts, and Countee Cullen. The January 1936 “Dear Reader” section (penned by editor Dorothy West) elaborated on her vision for the magazine. On the topic of pieces submitted for publication, West shared that she was looking for well-written pieces with strong style. These pieces were supposed to depict scenes of protest and be written by promising young black authors.
Despite gaining momentum, the submissions Challenge received did not meet West’s standards, so she sought to recenter her efforts. West published the 1937 Fall issue as the New Challenge, bringing in associate editors Marian Minus and Richard Wright to help her curate a magazine that for writers devoted to the “realistic depiction of life through the sharp focus of social consciousness” (Daniel 499). To remain authentic and unbiased in that regard, she disavowed any politically-motivated funding and refused excessive contributions from any individual, even going as far to pour her own savings into New Challenge as she had done for its earlier iteration. These practices, along with the editorial disputes between West and the vocally communist Wright, led to the premature demise of the rebranded publication after its first issue.
While Challenge never published an explicit manifesto, the March 1934 issue’s foreword by James Weldon Johnson included insights into the magazine’s purpose and outlook:
It is a good thing that Dorothy West is doing in instituting a magazine through which the voices of younger negro writers may be heard…They can bring to bear a tremendous force for breaking down and wearing away the stereotyped ideas about the Negro, and for creating a higher and more enlightened opinion about the race. (Vol. 1., No. 1: 2)
Additionally, the May 1935 “Dear Reader” section by Dorothy West reasserts this commitment to supporting new, young writers:
We are rather pleased with this issue, for most of the names are new to us, and we are glad to note that not all of the voices are Negro. Most of them are young too, really young, which means that as good as they are now, think how much better they will be one fine day. So that for all we know we may be raising a crop of young geniuses. And we are glad they are cutting their talent on our papers. (Vol. 1., No. 3: 45)
Dorothy West (Jun. 02, 1907 – August. 16, 1998)
Editor: 1934 – 1937
One of the youngest writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance—she published her first story at age 14—Dorothy West was the primary editor of Challenge and New Challenge. In 1907, West was born to a middle-class family in Boston, Massachusetts where she attended Girls’ Latin School before moving to New York City in 1926 (“Dorothy West” 1). There, she enrolled in writing classes at Columbia University while continuing her work in short fiction. Her short story “The Typewriter” went on to tie with a piece by Zora Neale Hurston for 2nd place in Opportunity magazine’s short story contest (Garman 1). The resulting celebration banquet introduced West to the likes of Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, and Langston Hughes, all of whom she would befriend soon afterward (Garman 1). Her time spent with these influential thinkers inspired her to found her own literary magazine, Challenge, with an initial investment of $40 in 1934. Shortly after, following six issues and one attempted relaunch, West’s magazine-editing days ended when Richard Wright took over her New Challenge to transform the magazine into a communist-oriented publication in 1937 (Scutts 1). Six years later, West returned to Massachusetts, moving away from the city to Martha’s Vineyard where she could focus on her writing (“Dorothy West” 1). There, she published her first novel, The Living is Easy, which satirized West’s own experience growing up as a member of the black bourgeois of Massachusetts. She then went on to publish her second novel, The Wedding, nearly fifty years later in 1995 before her death in 1998.
James Weldon Johnson
“Saturday Night: Alabama Town”
“Dang Little Squirt”
“Room in Red Square”
“To a Tree in November”
Lucia Mae Pitts
“The First Kiss”
“Widow With a Moral Obligation”
“Let Me Sing My Song”
Blanche Colton Williams
Alfred H. Mendes
“On the Seventh Day”
Zora Neale Hurston
“The Fire and The Cloud”
Walter Everett Hawkins
“Debunking the Spirituals”
Louis G. Sutherland
Frank G. Yerby
“To A Seagull”
“For a Leader”
Carl Van Vechten
“Carl Van Vechten Comments”
Morton Elliot Freedgood
“Under the Tree”
Myron A. Mahler
“Alabama Welcomes You”
“Miss Hood Is Shocked”
Roy de Coverly
“Beauty, Beer and Beechwoods”
“I Sit and Wait For Beauty”
James O. Wilson
“Song of a Song”
Juanita C. DeShield
“All for Art”
Eslanda Goode Robeson
“Portrait of Richard Aldington”
Louis Emanuel Martin
“Naughty Antillean Queen”
Jerome B. Peterson
Andrews, William L., et al. The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2001, pp. 428-429. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=430299.
Daniel, Walter C. “Challenge Magazine: An Experiment That Failed.” CLA Journal, vol. 19, no. 4, 1976, pp. 494–503.
Garman, Emma.“Feminize Your Canon: Dorothy West.” The Paris Review, 11 July 2018, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/07/11/feminize-your-canon-dorothy-west/.
Johnson, James Weldon. “Foreword.” Challenge, Mar. 1934, pp. 2.
The President and Fellows of Harvard College. “Schlesinger Library Dorothy West Digital Collection.” Schlesinger Library Online Digital Collections, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard University), 2018, schlesinger.radcliffe.harvard.edu/onlinecollections/west/.
West, Dorothy. “Dear Reader.” Challenge, May 1935, p. 45.
West, Dorothy. “Dear Reader.” Challenge, Jan. 1936, p. 38.
Compiled by Matthew Days (Class of 2019, Davidson College) and collaborators