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African American Literature in Transition, 1920-1930 presents original essays that map ideological, historical, and cultural shifts in the 1920s. Complicating the familiar reading of the 1920s as a decade that began with a spectacular boom and ended with disillusionment and bust, the collection explores the range and diversity of Black cultural production. Emphasizing a generative contrast between the ephemeral qualities of periodicals, clothes, and décor and the relative fixity of canonical texts, this volume captures in its dynamics a cultural movement that was fluid and expansive. Chapters by leading scholars are grouped into four sections: 'Habitus, Sound, Fashion'; 'Spaces: Chronicles of Harlem and Beyond'; 'Uplift Renewed: Religion, Protest, and Education,' and 'Serial Reading: Magazines and Periodical Culture.'
In the popular imagination, the Harlem Renaissance is closely associated with the Jazz Age, with rent parties, clubs, cabarets, jazz, and blues. Langston Hughes did much to cement such views of the period, announcing in his autobiography The Big Sea (1940) that “it was the period when the Negro was in vogue,” a spectacular cultural boom that came to a sudden halt with the onset of the Depression. In fact, the Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, was characterized by remarkable diversity that cannot be limited to a linear narrative of boom and bust, and more fiction by black authors was published in the 1930s than in the 1920s. The unprecedented flowering of black cultural production in visual art, literature, dance, and music from the late 1910s to the 1930s encompassed jazz and blues poetry by Sterling A. Brown and Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston’s lyrical renderings of folk culture in the South, George Schuyler’s unusual blending of satire and science fiction in Black No More (1931), militant editorials in The Messenger, and modernist cover designs by such artists as Aaron Douglas and Laura Wheeler Waring.
This essay examines the conditions of African American modernism in the twenty-first century. How does a new black modernism differ from an earlier black modernist period commonly associated with the New Negro Movement of the 1920s? Moving briefly from Richard Bruce Nugent’s 1926 short story, “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” to two significant portrayals of a new black modernism by the visual artist Glenn Ligon and the poet Claudia Rankine, the essay considers how Ligon’s text-based paintings and Rankine’s poetry in Citizen play with the dynamic of image and text that has been so productive for black modernism. In particular, Rankine’s use of Ligon’s text-based paintings in Citizen helps the poet depict the subtle, subjective shift that occurs when difference, however defined, “enters the American landscape.”
The Harlem Renaissance was the most influential single movement in African American literary history. The movement laid the groundwork for subsequent African American literature, and had an enormous impact on later black literature world-wide. In its attention to a wide range of genres and forms – from the roman à clef and the bildungsroman, to dance and book illustrations – this book seeks to encapsulate and analyze the eclecticism of Harlem Renaissance cultural expression. It aims to re-frame conventional ideas of the New Negro movement by presenting new readings of well-studied authors, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, alongside analysis of topics, authors, and artists that deserve fuller treatment. An authoritative collection on the major writers and issues of the period, A History of the Harlem Renaissance takes stock of nearly a hundred years of scholarship and considers what the future augurs for the study of 'the New Negro'.
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