During the Harlem Renaissance the impulses, voices, and traditions of African American culture sounded its full voice. The artists and intellectuals of the era carried on the works of their immediate predecessors Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Charles... [more]
During the Harlem Renaissance the impulses, voices, and traditions of African American culture sounded its full voice. The artists and intellectuals of the era carried on the works of their immediate predecessors Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Charles Chesnutt, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and sought create an articulate, respected, and solvent nation of African Americans. In his guide for the new sound of African America, 'The Book of American Negro Poetry' (1922), James Weldon Johnson asserted one of the tenets of the era: any race or nation that demonstrates its artistic prowess will be respected and revered. Johnson canonized long-standing forms of African American expression and repudiated the false traditions of dialect verse derived from the white minstrel tradition. The Harlem-based poets who appeared in Johnson's book, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Jean Toomer, also appeared in Alain Locke's influential collection, 'The New Negro' (1925). The books signaled a new era in literary and political awareness.
Rejecting earlier ethnic writers whose work mimicked white standards, authors of the Harlem Renaissance took the then-enormous liberty of writing in the style, idiom, vernacular, and cadences of their communities. Eschewing the formulaic, Eurocentric notions of theme, content, and form, the Renaissance group had a mission -- to shuck Uncle Tom. From such characteristic works as the down-home earthiness of Zora Neale Hurston's 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' to Langston Hughes' jazz-tinged, documentary-styled poetry, the Harlem writers recounted urban African American experiences in all their truth, pain, humor, and vibrant beauty. Renaissance writers refused to conform to the dominant literary standards or to swallow the prevailing prescriptive to racist woes: white assimilation. Their daring and innovative excavation of both ghetto sufferings and the creative riches of the African American communal journey profoundly inspired later Black revolutionary writers and thinkers of the 1950s and 1960s, such as James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison.