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This introduction outlines the parameters of the 1930s as the decade that shapes the African American literature tradition. It considers the volumeʼs chapters and their willingness to linger in the economic, social, and political uncertainty – the transitions – that mark this oft-overlooked decade. Bound not simply by a willingness to grapple with cultural works produced during national and international economic, political, and social upheaval, this introduction argues for the decadeʼs centrality to the later twentieth-century literary trends in the form of literary concerns and aesthetic innovations.
The volume explores 1930s African American writing to examine Black life, culture, and politics to document the ways Black artists and everyday people managed the Great Depression's economic impact on the creative and the social. Essays engage iconic figures such as Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West, and Richard Wright as well as understudied writers such as Arna Bontemps and Marita Bonner, Henry Lee Moon, and Roi Ottley. This book demonstrates the significance of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) and Black literary circles in the absence of white patronage. By featuring novels, poetry, short fiction, and drama alongside guidebooks, photographs, and print culture, African American Literature in Transition 1930-1940 provides evidence of the literary culture created by Black writers and readers during a period of economic precarity, expanded activism for social justice, and urgent internationalism.
New York City had a significant role in Richard Wright’s search for political and artistic freedom. During the ten years he spent there, the emerging writer reached the pinnacle of his career amid the city’s magazines, newspapers, publishers, and cultural brokers. Wright utilized various professionalizing networks, including the CPUSA and WPA, and he published Uncle Tom’s Children and Native Son shortly after his arrival in 1937. Additionally, he radicalized the short-lived New Challenge, exposed Harlem’s poverty in the Daily Worker, and fictionalized his research on black domestic workers and juvenile delinquency in “Black Hope” and Rite of Passage, respectively. Wright’s years in New York were his career’s most productive, and this success was reflected in his personal life, which included settling into marriage and fatherhood as well as the 7 Middagh artistic community. Although New York fostered these interracial domestic relationships, its boroughs were not free from the Jim Crowism African Americans lived under elsewhere. The prejudices Wright encountered in Brooklyn and Manhattan, on top of those he had experienced in the South, influenced his decision to leave the U.S., as he believed the move to Paris would free him to write with new perspective on American race relations.
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