Harlem Renaissance in American Literature

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      The publication of The New Negro by Alan Locke is the pivotal event in the modern American literature. It grew out of a special issue of the Survey graphic magazine in March of that year devoted to the district of Harlem in Manhattan. The book served as a catalyst for growing sense of confidence that black America was on the verge of a second ‘Emancipation. There was a migration from the south into such urban areas like New York, Chicago, and Detroit in search of job/service opportunities. The term ‘The New Negro’ was not coined by Locke and it has been in use since 1890s. The book gave it currency as term of choice to describe a new sense of racial pride. Locke put forward the intellectual achievement of African Americans energetically in 1920s. As a result, he became the known as the father of the New Negro Movement and the deal of the Harlem Renaissance. A different perspective was offered by Wallace Thurman in his satirical romance Infants of the Spring (1932). Thurman, being a talented poet, playwright, editor, and literary critic. And novelist, joined a handful other black writers and the artists in 1926, he helped to publish Fire the most iconoclastic magazine of Black America. In 1929, he brought out a play with the title Harlem which ran for ninety performances at the Apollo Theatre. He also wrote three notable novels. The Blacker the Berry (1929). The Interne, and Infants of the Spring. Satirized by Thurman and celebrated by Locke, the new movement of the 1920s produced a host of writers. Claude McKay (1890-1948) Zora Neale Hurston (19891-1960), Jean Toomer (1894-1976), Langston Hughes (1902-1967) etc.

      During the exuberant 1920s, the Harlem, the black community situated uptown in New York City, sparkled with passion and creativity. The sounds of its black American jazz swept the United States by storm, and jazz musicians and composers like Duke Wellington became starish states and overseas. Bessie Smith and other blues singers presented frank, sensual, wry lyrics raw with emotion. The black spirituals became widely appreciated as uniquely beautiful religious music Ethel Waters, the black actress, triumphed on the stage, and black American dance and art flourished with music and drama. Among the rich variety of talent in Harlem, many visions coexisted. Carl Van Vechten’s sympathetic novel Nigger Heaven (1926) of Harlem gives some idea of the complex and bitter sweet life of the black America in the face of economic and social in equality.

      The poet, Countee Cullen, a native of Harlem who was briefly married to W.E.B. Du Bois’s daughter, wrote accomplished rhymed poetry, in accepted forms which was much admired by whites. He believed that a poet should not allow race to dictate the subject matter and style of a poem. On the other end of the spectrum were African-Americans who rejected the United States in favor of Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement. Somewhere in between lays the work of Jean Toomer.

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