Our second installment of the MagMods Bookclub reading of Catherine Keyser’s Playing Smart comes from Eurie Dahn, Assistant Professor of English at the College of Saint Rose. Professor Dahn specializes in modernist literature, African-American literature, and the places where they intersect. Some of these places include the periodicals and discussions of manners and respectability. Her current research project, “Race and the Sociological Imagination: Jean Toomer and Robert E. Park,” examines the discourse of social change as it emerges from Harlem Renaissance literature and American sociology during the 1920s.
In examining the smart culture of New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, Catherine Keyser argues for the networks that existed between women writers who wrote for, appeared in, criticized, advocated for, and consumed the magazines. By placing Dorothy Parker in relation to someone like Harlem Renaissance writer Jessie Fauset, Keyser asks us to pay attention to the strategies that these writers engaged in to negotiate a magazine culture that both subjected them to limiting gender roles and gave them the medium to criticize these expectations. Accounts of the periodical culture of the early twentieth century tend to focus on the role of men (with some notable exceptions, of course), particularly in terms of strong editorial presences, and Keyser’s book works to reveal the pleasures and political strategies of women writers among and outside of these magazines. It also moves away from simply discussing modernists and their little magazines to focusing on the middlebrow magazine culture that criticized but also intersected with modernism. These shifts – of gender and of brows – are invaluable. Continue reading