Anderson, Regina M. (1901–1993)
Anderson, Regina M. (1901–1993)
African-American librarian, playwright, and arts patron. Name variations: Regina Anderson Andrews; (pseudonym) Ursula Trelling. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on May 21, 1901; died on February 6, 1993; daughter of William Grant (an attorney) and Margaret (Simons) Anderson; attended Normal Training School and Hyde Park High School in Chicago; studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio, the University of Chicago, and City College of New York; received library science degree from Columbia University Library School; married William T. Andrews, in 1926; children: one daughter, Regina.
Regina M. Anderson was instrumental in launching the careers of countless black artists who, in turn, gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance of the late 1920s and 1930s. She had moved to New York from Chicago because of Manhattan's "liberating atmosphere," and first came in contact with the young artists through her job as assistant librarian at Harlem's 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library (later renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). Meeting the writers, singers, dancers, painters, and actors of her time, she was in the center of Harlem's artistic life and became a crucial member of the movement for black arts.
Before her marriage in 1926, Anderson used her apartment in Harlem's posh Sugar Hill, shared with Ethel Ray Nance and Louella Tucker , as a "sort of Harlem Renaissance USO" for newcomers to the area. Anderson and Nance, who worked for the National Urban League, had the power to launch an artist's or writer's career from their own living room.
The two helped instigate and plan the famous Civic Club dinner, held in March 1924, with guests like Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes, as well as other writers of the time. Speeches were given by members of the older black generation, such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson. The younger writers, in turn, gave readings to an audience that included white editors and publishers, who then became their patrons and advisors. These contacts resulted in publications devoted exclusively to black writing.
Sharing W.E.B. Du Bois' hope for serious black theater, Anderson became involved with the fledgling Krigwa Players, under the direction of Du Bois and housed in the 135th Street library basement. The Players served as the parent group of the Negro Experimental Theater (also known as the Harlem Experimental Theater), which was founded in 1929. In 1931, the group moved to Saint Philip's Parish House, where they produced a number of original scripts, including several by Anderson. Her Climbing Jacob's Ladder, presented in 1931, was a serious folk drama written under the pseudonym of Ursula Trelling. Anderson claimed the need for the pen name because of her professional connection with the 135th Street Library, but others cite modesty. The play met with great success and led to Broadway roles for many of the cast members.
The Negro Experimental Theater was instrumental in helping to bring the Federal Theater (WPA) to New York and Harlem. It was also an inspiration to theater groups across the country, and Anderson and Du Bois were credited with paving the way for future black playwrights such as Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry , James Baldwin, and Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Among the ten black women recognized by the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, Anderson viewed her efforts as only a beginning. "It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction," she said, "to have lived to see much of what we and other pioneers worked to achieve becoming a reality. However, we need more and more opportunities for our actors, writers, and directors."
Before her retirement in 1967, Anderson had become second vice president of the National Council of Women as well as National Urban League representative to the U.S. Commission for UNESCO; she also worked with the State Commission for Human Rights. Anderson received countless awards, including an Asian Foundation grant that enabled her to visit India, Hong Kong, Japan, Iran, Thailand, and Afghanistan, to meet with visiting scholars who had been guests in the programs she directed at the library. She settled in upstate New York after her retirement, and in 1971 she and Ethel Ray Nance coedited a book titled Chronology of African-Americans in New York, 1921–1966.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.
Anderson, Jervis. This Was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait, 1900–1950. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981.
Kellner, Bruce, ed. The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Mitchell, Loften. Black Drama: The Story of the American Negro in the Theater. NY: Hawthorn Books, 1967.
Roses, Lorraine E., and Ruth E. Randolph. "Regina M. Anderson" [Ursula Trelling]. Harlem Renaissance and Beyond: 100 Black Women Writers 1900–1945. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990.
Books from her private library as well as papers, a scrapbook, and an oral history videotape of Regina Anderson Andrews are in the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts