Seen as too smart, too sassy, too sexy, and too strident, female humorists have been resisted and overlooked. This talk will look at the pioneering women of wit who emerged in New York City during the interwar period and the ways in which they use irony, satire, and wit as an indirect form of social protest. Many of these writers stood on the periphery of largely male New York intellectual circles, which gave them a perspective from which to critique the worlds to which they partially belonged. These include Edna St. Vincent Millay among the Greenwich Village set, who wrote satiric sketches under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd; Tess Slesinger of the Menorah Journal group; Dorothy Parker of the Algonquin wits; Jessie Redmon Fauset among the Harlem Renaissance writers; Dawn Powell of the Lafayette Circle in Greenwich Village; and Mary McCarthy of the Partisan Review crowd.

These women writers developed a more urban and urbane form of humor that reflects the increasingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated time and place in which they lived. The advent of modernism, the women’s suffrage movement, the emergence of the New Woman and the New Negro Woman, and the growth of urban centers like New York City in the 1920s and 30s gave rise to a new voice of women’s humor that challenged traditional gender roles. These foremothers of women’s humor set the stage for more overtly feminist humorists of today, who have turned the labels of bright, bold, and bitchy from a stigma into a rallying cry for future generations.

About the Speaker:

Sabrina Fuchs Abrams is Professor of English in the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State University. She is the author of New York Women of Wit in the Twentieth Century and Mary McCarthy: Gender, Politics, and the Postwar Intellectual and editor of Transgressive Humor of American Women Writers and Literature of New York. She is founder and co-chair of the Mary McCarthy Society and Associate Editor of Studies in American Humor.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
6:00 pm


Pre-registration required


Location: Jefferson Market Library
425 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011

Click here to learn more about this past program