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Cherry Muhanji papers

Identifier: IWA0366

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Scope and Contents

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.


  • Creation: 1984-2006


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

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

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Writer, mother, activist, lesbian, Cherry Muhanji embodied the term 'non-traditional' student. Muhanji, whose adopted name is a combination of the surnames of her spouses, was born Jannette Washington in Detroit on April 26, 1939. At the age of 14, reading Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells" inspired in her a lifelong passion for the written word. Muhanji married her first husband at nineteen, mothered four sons (Abram, Wardene, David and Tracy) and spent eighteen years working for a telephone company. She began her formal education in 1985 at the age of 46, when she matriculated at 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.


5.00 linear inches

2 videocassettes  [V193-V194], Photographs in Box 1 boxes

Language of Materials



Writer, lesbian activist, and University of Iowa alumna.

Method of Acquisition

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

Related Materials

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.

Sandi Solis, 2001, Lisa Mott, 2005; and Sarah Dorpinghaus, 2009.
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)