New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse

By Australia Tarver; Barnes C. Paula | Go to book overview

“Feminine Calibans” and “Dark Madonnas
of the Grave”: The Imaging of Black Women
in the New Negro Renaissance

EMILY J. ORLANDO

You decide that something is wrong with a world that stifles
and chokes; that cuts off and stunts; hedging in, pressing
down on eyes, ears and throat. Somehow all wrong…. Why
do they see a colored woman only as a gross collection of de-
sires, all uncontrolled, reaching out for their Apollos and the
Quasimodos with avid indiscrimination?… Why are you a
feminine Caliban craving to pass for Ariel?

—Marita Bonner, “On Being Young—a Woman—and Colored”

Can you not hear us?…
Can you not see us?…
We yearn to hear
The beauty of truth
From your lips.

—Mae Cowdery, “The Young Voice Cries: To Alice Dunbar Nelson”

As you know, men are apt to idolize or fear that which they
cannot understand, especially if it be a woman.

—Jean Toomer, Cane

THE DECEMBER 1925 NUMBER OF OPPORTUNITY: JOURNAL OF NEGRO Life sports on its cover Aaron Douglas’s striking rendering of what came to be recognized as “The New Negro”: a man’s silhouette—bold, directed, strong—with a cityscape, dwarfed in comparison, set off to the right (figure 1).1 This December issue promoted Alain Locke’s newly-released, much-awaited anthology, The New Negro: An Interpretation, an extension of the March issue of Survey Graphic.2 A full-page advertisement celebrates the “first complete book on and by The Negro.” The selective list of contributors reads like a “Who’s Who” of what often is referred to as the Harlem Renaissance: Locke, Albert C. Barnes, William S. Braithwaite, Countee Cullen, Arthur A.

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