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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Cherry Muhanji papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1984-2006
Creator: Muhanji, Cherry (1939-)
Extent: 5.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0366
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Writer, lesbian activist, and University of Iowa alumna.

Alternate Extent Statement: 2 videocassettes  [V193-V194]
Photographs in Box 1

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 523) were donated by J. Cherry Muhanji in 1998 and ensuing years.

Preferred Citation: Cherry Muhanji papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Writer, mother, activist, lesbian, Cherry Muhanji embodied the term 'non-traditional' student. Jeannette Cherry Muhanji grew up in Detroit, Michigan where she married at nineteen (later marrying a second time), mothered four sons (Abram, Wardene, David and Tracy), and spent eighteen years working for the phone company. She began her formal education in 1985 at the age of forty-six, entering the University of Iowa as an undergraduate. After earning her BS in General Studies, Muhanji went on to earn an MA from the African American World Studies Program, followed by an Interdisciplinary PhD in 1997 with a focus on English, African American Studies and Anthropology. All of her degrees are from the University of Iowa.

Muhanji's first book Tight Spaces (1987) was co-authored with her niece Kesho Scott (also a University of Iowa alumna) and their friend Egyirba High. The work which Muhanji has referred to as "the family laundry," began as Muhanji's response to an essay written by Scott at a time when the two were estranged. High's contribution to the book is a response to Muhanji's and Scott's work. Tight Spaces won the 1988 Before Columbus American Book Award. The last chapter of Tight Spaces laid the groundwork for Muhanji's next book, the novel Her (1990), winner of two 1991 Lambda Literary Awards: the Lesbian Debut category and the Ferro-Grumley Award for outstanding works of fiction on lesbian and gay life.

After earning her PhD in 1997 Muhanji taught at several institutions including the University of Minnesota and Goddard College in Vermont. Noticing a lack of writing and thinking skills in her college pupils, Muhanji later earned a certificate so she could also teach and mentor students in junior high and high school.

The name Cherry Muhanji is a combination of her two husbands' last names.

The Cherry Muhanji  papers date from 1984 to 2006 and measure 5 linear inches.

This collection consists of articles about Muhanji and a 1990 student paper resulting from an interview with Muhanji, personal letters, Muhanji's faculty profile, and her residency schedule.

The Writer series includes an excerpt from Muhanji's dissertation novel, Mama Played First Chair . Also included is a publication of Womanist Theory and Research , which contains an article written by Muhanji. The series also includes documents from several conferences Muhanji attended.

The Photographs series includes a 1988 group shot of Muhanji with writers Alice Walker, Kesho Scott, Egyirba High and others. There is also a photograph of Muhanji with writer Michelle Cliff at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa. Other photographs include Muhanji in Cuba, in Kenya, and with her dissertation committee at the University of Iowa.

There are two videocassettes of Muhanji from her years in Iowa. One documents a presentation by POW (Pissed Off Women), including poetry and performance by Muhanji. The other videocassette records a discussion between Muhanji and other participants discussing the importance of self-identity and experiences of homophobia, racism and sexism.
University of Iowa Women's Resource and Action Center records (IWA):  Women's center established in 1970 to serve the university and community. Muhanji was active with WRAC during her years in Iowa City, Iowa.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Biography - 1990-2006
  • Correspondence - 1984-2000
  • Goddard College - 1999
  • Portland State University - 2004
  • Media - 1990-2001
  • Women's Resource and Action Center - 2002
  • Writer: Book reviews - 1991-1992
  • Writer: Citing Muhanji - 1991-1993
  • Writer: Lambda Literary Awards - 1991
  • Writer: Mama Played First Chair (excerpt) - 1993
  • Writer: Promotion - 1987, 1999
  • Writer: Tight Spaces - 1985
  • Writer: Tight Spaces - 1998
  • Writer: Womanist Theory and Research - 2001-2002
  • Writer: Conferences - 2005
  • Photographs - 1984-1997
  • Videocassette tapes
  • V193: Pissed Off Women (POW), Clapp Recital Hall, University of Iowa, 20 Jun - 1995
  • V194: Brown bag gathering of African American lesbians, undated