African American Literature: The Harlem Renaissance 1919-1940

We discussed the Reconstruction and the Great Migration very briefly. What remains important in looking at the Reconstruction period of literature is  how Blacks had to learn to adjust to not pursuing freedom from slavery any longer, but pursuing equality in a world that still required them to remain third class citizens. What is even more important is in the Reconstruction we have the beginning of Black on Black (colorism) that basically extends the problem of the house negro vs the field negro. *What two writers could be described as representing the internal conflict of African Americans? Interestingly enough these two writers could also be said to represent the problem of color in the African American community as well as the problem of leadership.

Moving into the Harlem Renaissance it becomes evident that Alan Locke’s New Negro seems more at liberty to discuss frustrations (I think that may be the wrong word-liberty). The New Negro also is creating a new narrative that does not have to show the best of the people. What do I mean by this? Black writers were writing in a way that generated a conflict between these new young writers and people like W.E.B. DuBois. Consider these questions to gain a better understanding of the Harlem Renaissance:


Who was the first poet to be published by a major publishing house in 1925?

Who wrote the first work of fiction to be published by a New York publisher?

Harlem and New York became the headquarters of what two cultural and political organizations?

What graduate of Cornell took over the editor’s job of the Crisis and discovered and nurtured several young writers of the Renaissance?

Why is Ridgely Torrence important? Also why is this white playwright considered the lead in to the new movement by Black writers?

As I mentioned earlier, blacks began writing in a more direct manner about their frustrations. What Jamaican born poet introduced a more defiant tone in his poetry?

During the Reconstruction dialect poems dominated the literature of Blacks. Who condemned this type of poetry? What did he think should be done to remove the stigma associated with dialect poetry?

What was the name of the theater established by DuBois and what were the principles of this theater?

Why did the Harlem Renaissance decline?

Analyze “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay and answer these questions:

Show a simile and the two things being compared:

What is the rhyme scheme?

What is the line length?

What type of poem is this?

Why is this poem important?

Is this a Shakespearean form or Petrarchan?

That’s it for now. I will pass out the test (a culmination of all of the posts on the blog and additional questions from the lectures, handouts and notes. I am very interested in your thoughts about the conflicts within the Black community and how these conflicts still exist today. Light skin vs dark skin, educated vs workers, old vs young, are all things that stem directly from the formation of the ghetto in America. The Great Migration, the formation of unions, the limited access to unions, employment and the separation of family in the Black community due to the migration north of Blacks looking for work in industry shapes the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, but those same things also inspired hope and a distancing from White poets like T.S. Eliot. How does the duality of Blackness still affect Blacks?