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Examining Hughes’s interest in Ebony magazine as a context informing his approach to writing at mid-century, this chapter explores the intersections aesthetically and politically between the landscape of popular journalism and Hughes’s work for the young. In Famous American Negroes (1954) and Famous Negro Music Makers (1955), Hughes combines photography and narrative to demonstrate the economic, political, and creative accomplishments of Black Americans. Hughes’s approach to the designation of “famous” as a marker of Black accomplishment corresponds to the method of Ebony in deploying public recognition and singularity as signs of civil rights progress, a strategic approach during the Cold War, during which straightforward assertions of dissatisfaction with American ideals could appear dangerous. By focusing on notoriety, Hughes picks up on the mode dominant in Ebony magazine but elaborates and complicates its tendencies. In the books’ depiction of music, Hughes articulates a resistant approach to the singularity of celebrity biography.
This chapter explores the variety of literature available to young people during the Harlem Renaissance, paying specific attention to the contributions of W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Effie Lee Newsome, Langston Hughes, and Arna Bontemps. Children’s literature took shape through periodicals, community theatre, black-owned publications, and mainstream publishing houses with an interracial audience. Texts embraced a new vision of African American childhood as sophisticated, capable, knowledgeable, and courageous, because literacy rates for young people often outmatched those of adults, children were imagined through texts as cultural leaders who would help reinvent the black community. Writers also employed children’s literature as a site of community galvanization, drawing together adults and children through the veneration of black history and identity. Children were imagined as politically invested and deeply aware of the racist culture that surrounded them. Children’s literature aimed to develop readers’ racial sensibility in order to propel social change.
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