edna lewis

A few literary suggestions for Black History Month

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Originally posted by imnot12

Maybe you know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from when Beyoncé sampled her TEDx talk, “We should all be feminists,” or maybe you’ve been following her emergence as one of the most prominent voices of African literature over the last two decades. Her latest novel, Americanah, was selected by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013.

Edna Lewis

Originally posted by robtrujilloart

Edna Lewis had a hell of a career. She worked her way up as a seamstress, eventually fashioning a dress for Marilyn Monroe. Then she became the first African-American celebrity chef. Then she broke her leg, so she wrote a cookbook. The Taste of Country Cooking was interspersed with personal stories of growing up in a freed-slave settled town in Virginia, and redefined what many thought of Southern food.  

Roxane Gay

Originally posted by lastnightsreading

Roxane Gay (@roxanegay), famed author of Bad Feminist, is a Tumblr favorite, and not just because you can follow her. She writes about what it means to be a woman of color. She’s the first Black woman to write for Marvel, and she’s writing queer WOC into their storylines. She pulled her unreleased book from publishers Simon & Schuster after their deal with Milo Yiannopoulos was announced. It’s easy to admire her actions as much as her writing. 

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Don’t miss our upcoming BHM Answer Times. This week and next week, we have:

Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking
The chef and author made the case for black Southern cooking as the foundation of our national cuisine. Does she get the credit she deserves?
By Francis Lam

The chef and author made the case for black Southern cooking as the foundation of our national cuisine. Does she get the credit she deserves?

This is an oustanding piece about an incredibly important person in black American history and foodways.

Edna Lewis

Black History Month. 21: “Miss Lewis,” as she was known, was born in 1916 in a settlement known as Freetown, west of Charlottesville, VA. It had been founded by her grandfather and others after the Civil War. Her cooking skills came mainly from observation. The farm kitchen was primitive—there weren’t things like measuring spoons, for instance. Baking powder was measured on a coin. The cooking was done open-hearth style, over a wood fire.

After her father died, in the midst of the Great Depression, Edna, just 15, saw no future in staying on the farm, so when a couple of girls decided to head north, she went along, and ultimately landed in New York. She worked in laundry and was a seamstress—it is said that she had sewn a dress for Marilyn Monroe. Along the way, she got a job typing for The Daily Worker, the communist party’s newspaper. At house parties, Edna gained a reputation as a good cook.

Edna Lewis, 33, in 1949. She was tall (5’8”/5’9”) and had an elegant bearing.

She became acquainted with John Nicholson, an antiques dealer. In 1949, he decided to open a restaurant, and talked Edna into being the cook. The Café Nicholson, in a brownstone on E.52nd St., quickly became a hit among the arts and letters crowd, especially among southern writers such as William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote, who especially appreciated her down-home southern cooking.

The Café Nicholson, 1949, had a backyard garden. Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal are on the right. That’s probably Edna in the background.

In a time when southern cooking was not well known in New York, and female chefs were rare, and African American female chefs even more rare, it didn’t take long for Edna’s reputation to grow. In 1954, however, she left the restaurant at the urging of her husband, Steve Kingston, a communist, who thought it had become too bourgeois. They spent roughly the next twenty years, until his death, pursuing ventures such as running a pheasant farm.

In the 1970s, Edna began to write down her recipes. In 1976, her classic book,The Taste of Country Cooking was published. In it, she anticipates by 25-30 years the contemporary interest in food that’s fresh, local, and seasonal; in fact, the book’s recipes are organized around the four seasons. She then returned to restaurant work, including a stint at Gage and Tollner, in Brooklyn.

Miss Lewis died in 2006, two months before her 90th birthday. A 22-minute documentary, “Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie,” completed just after her death, is definitely worth watching. In 2014, she was one of five chefs honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a commemorative stamp.

Breakfast was about the best part of the day. There was an almost mysterious feeling about passing through the night and awakening to a new day. everyone greeted each other in the morning with gladness and a real sense of gratefulness to see the new day. If it was a particularly beautiful morning it was expressed in the grace. Spring would bring our first and just about only fish - shad. It would always be served for breakfast, soaked in salt water for an hour or so, rolled in sesoned cornmeal, and fried carefully in home-rendered lard with a slice of smoked shoulder for added flavor. There were crispy fried white potatoes, fried onions, batter bread, any food left over from supper, blackberry jelly, delicious hot coffee, and cocoa for the children. And perhaps if a neighbor dropped in, dandelion wine was added. With the morning feeling of the animals out of the way, breakfast was enjoyable and leisurely.
—  Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking

Before Annie Leibovitz and Margaret Bourke-White, there was Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870–1942). A pioneer of photojournalism in the late 1880s and early 1900s, Beals is recognized as the first woman photographer hired on a newspaper staff. In 1902, after she had proven herself as an accomplished freelance photographer (and taught her husband the trade), Beals joined the staff of The Buffalo Inquirer. But she didn’t stay long. She left her post at the paper after 18 months to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair with her husband Alfred. Jessie had to push officials at the fair to give her a photography permit, and once she did she became an accredited photographer for the New York Herald and other papers. During her six months at the fair, she became something of a celebrity herself, taking pictures of luminaries such as President Theodore Roosevelt and his oldest son, Theodore Jr. Following her success in St. Louis, Jessie was ready to take on New York. In 1905, she and her husband moved to Manhattan and eventually set up their own studio; Jessie took pictures, while Alfred managed the business. Hustling for clients, Jessie went so far as to write to prominent people who were listed in the Social Register and offer to take their portraits without charge. Her labor paid off. The business survived, and in 1906, she and other women photographers were featured in a group show sponsored by the Camera Club of Hartford, Conn. In the show’s announcement, Beals was singled out for special recognition. But all was not well on the home front. While Jessie enjoyed the bohemian life in Greenwich Village—where she was friendly with Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, and other artists—her husband was more reclusive. They began to lead separate lives, and by the time Jessie gave birth to her daughter Nanette, in 1911, there was some dispute whether Alfred was the child’s father, though he doted on her throughout his life. In an era when most women chose children or careers, Beals managed both, however imperfectly. Nanette was often cared for by friends or shipped off to boarding school, and mother and daughter didn’t live together until the daughter was 17. Ultimately, though, the daughter was loyal to her mother, publicizing her work and arranging for posthumous exhibitions and publications. Beginning in 1982, Nanette Beals Brainerd gave all of her mother’s papers and pictures to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, where they’re available today to scholars and others interested in women’s history. Jenny Gotwals, lead manuscript cataloger at the Schlesinger, who processed Beals’s papers and photographs, points out that—unlike most photographers—Beals didn’t specialize in one area but took news photos, interior portraits, street scenes, and garden and house pictures. In Gotwals’ view, the photographer was indomitable. “She just soldiered on and did what she needed to do. That’s how she was able to accomplish so much.”


Johnny Nicholson in his Midtown Manhattan restaurant, the Café Nicholson in 1949. Café Nicholson, served as a gathering place for the artists and celebrities known as “the New Bohemians” in the 1950s and ’60s.

At the table from left, the ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, the novelist Donald Windham, the painter Buffie Johnson, the playwright Tennessee Williams and the writer Gore Vidal at Café Nicholson in Manhattan in 1949. In the background is Virginia Reed, a waitress.

Mr. Nicholson, an antiques dealer and interior designer, opened the first Café Nicholson in 1948 on 58th Street near Third Avenue, near where he and his romantic partner, the photographer Karl Bissinger, ran an antiques store. At the time, it was a neighborhood of cheap brownstones and photographers’ studios.

Inspired by the Caffè Greco in Rome, he planned to offer coffee and pastries, but the chef Edna Lewis, a self-taught cook from Virginia and a close friend, convinced him that a full-fledged restaurant was a better idea. He offered her a place behind the stove and a 50-50 partnership in the business, giving her her first exposure in New York. She would go on to write cookbooks that made her one of America’s foremost exponents of traditional Southern cuisine.

Mr. Nicholson decorated the interior in a spirit of mad eclecticism, combining trash-bin chic with florid romanticism, a look he once described as “fin de siècle Caribbean of Cuba style.”

Mr. Nicholson died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 99.

More here - via: The New York Times