Who Are You Dorothy Dean?

Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Who Are You Dorothy Dean? cover (detail)

Who Are You Dorothy Dean? is the first book dedicated to the life and work of the late African American writer, actress and socialite. A largely forgotten yet vital pillar of the 1960s New York experimental scene, Dean’s prominence and legacy is catalogued here for the first time in this unique volume edited by filmmaker and publisher Anaïs Ngbanzo.

Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Edited by Anaïs Ngbanzo
Published by Editions 1989, February 2024

When Dorothy Dean (1932–1987) entered the 1960s New York underground scene, she quickly became one of its key figures—starring in six of Andy Warhol’s films including Prison (1965), Space (1965), My Hustler (1965), Afternoon (1965), and Chelsea Girls (1966) and inspiring the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Robert Creeley. Said to be the first woman ever hired as fact checker at The New Yorker, Dean held brief editorial and proofreading positions at publications such as Vogue before launching her very own bulletin of film reviews, the All-Lavender Cinema Courier, in 1976. But in histories of the era, she has often been overlooked.

Dean had an astute academic mind, a keen appreciation and knowledge of art, and was constantly performing criticism of the social and cultural scene in which she was embedded, in more or less informal, anecdotal, or private contexts. Her acerbic wit was her trademark. Her humorous writings and correspondence collected in this book shed light on her sharp mind at its most animated.

Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Dorothy Dean, Edie Sedgwick, and Pat Hartley attending a screening at the Factory, 1965 © Bob Adelman

After struggling to hold on to magazine jobs, Dean also did a stint working the door at legendary New York restaurant and nightclub Max’s Kansas City. As Patti Smith notes in her memoir Just Kids, “Dorothy was small, black and brilliant. She had harlequin glasses, wore classic cardigan sweater sets and had gone to the finest schools. She stood before the entrance to the back room like an Abyssinian priest guarding the Ark. No one got past her unless she approved.”

Dean died of lung cancer in 1987 at age 54, leaving behind her beloved scene now devastated by AIDS and gentrification. In January 2023, publisher, and director Anaïs Ngbanzo discovered that more than 20 boxes of Dean’s belongings were held at New York University. The boxes contained journals, photographs, and other writing spanning more than 40 years of her life. Ngbanzo spent much of the year reviewing the contents and the resulting book, Who Are You Dorothy Dean? is published in February 2024.

The book includes a selection of Dean’s unpublished writing and correspondence with model Edie Sedgwick, artist Rene Ricard, poet Taylor Mead, and politician Harvey Milk among other friends and artists. Her letters open up intimate glimpses into the life and times of the era’s icons, Sedgwick’s time in a state mental institution, Ricard’s accounts of the frivolous New York party scene and observations and anecdotes which help to construct an intriguing vision of this fascinating woman.

Through these letters we read assured, uninhibited and surprisingly honest observations on characters and situations within the scene, as well as some insight into Dean’s struggle with alcoholism, her rejection of motherhood, marriage and femininity and the part she herself played in the larger cultural picture. In a letter to fellow Factory actor Ondine, we see the outline of a collaborative book Dean proposed to write. It details events and personalities within the pair’s shared experience at the Factory and within New York’s broader social circles.

Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, and Dorothy Dean at a party in New York City, 1965 © Bob Adelman

Who Are You Dorothy Dean? also includes the first reprinted and published issues of Dean’s self-published newsletter All-Lavender Cinema Courier. Despite her involvement with established magazines such as Vogue and Essence and her circle of artist friends, Dean’s own creative voice is largely absent from the time.

The Courier was her chance to platform her own gift for writing in the form of quippy film reviews distributed by mail to subscribers who included the likes of Fran Lebowitz.

Who Are You Dorothy Dean?
Dorothy, The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

Alongside first-hand accounts of Dean’s life are poems written in ode to Dean by poets Robert Creeley and Gerard Malanga, and an essay by artist Ara Osterweil on Dean’s unlikely appearance in Warhol’s 1965 picture My Hustler. Who Are You Dorothy Dean? ultimately serves to curate a long overdue introduction to a fiercely intelligent, highly influential, and largely forgotten persona of experimental 1960s New York.

On 19 March 2024, The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London will present Dorothy, the first play from Anaïs Ngbanzo. Adapted from Who Are You Dorothy Dean?, the play provides a glimpse of Dorothy Dean’s story and stages her correspondence with artist Rene Ricard, model Edie Sedgwick, and music journalist Lisa Robinson, while interrogating the role of African American artists in historical narratives. The play features actors Lucan Gillespie (The Serpent), Anders Hayward (Guilt), Lily Nichol (Henry VI, part 1, Royal Shakespeare Company), Agnes Carrington (The Lost Play of Barry Wayworm), Marie Osman, and Emily Radice.

The first book devoted to the life and work of Dorothy Dean published 20 February, with an accompanying play, Dorothy, performed at The ICA, London on 19 March 2024

ISBN: 978-2-9581084-1-0 | Bilingual (ENG/FR) I Paperback; 13 x 19,6 cm
£19/€21/$24 Published UK/US 20 February 2024

©2024 Editions 1989