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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

3 - The novel of the Negro Renaissance

from Part I - The long journey

Summary

While the location and duration of the movement popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance remain highly contested, its importance in the development of African American literature - and “modernism” in general - is more widely accepted today than ever. Central to the movement then known as the “Negro Renaissance” was the effort of black writers and artists after World War I to re-conceptualize “the Negro” independent of white myths and stereotypes that had affected African Americans' own relationship to their heritage and each other - independent, too, of Victorian moral values and bourgeois shame about those features of African American life that whites might take to confirm racist beliefs. The struggle with onedimensional mainstream stereotypes was, of course, far from over, and it was hardly new; a central feature of the work of Frances E.W. Harper and Charles Chesnutt in the 1890s, it played a major role in such novelistic “forerunners” to “renaissance” fiction as James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and W. E. B. Du Bois's The Quest of the Silver Fleece.