The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950

The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950

The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950

The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950


The Muse in Bronzeville, a dynamic reappraisal of a neglected period in African American cultural history, is the first comprehensive critical study of the creative awakening that occurred on Chicago's South Side from the early 1930s to the cold war. Coming of age during the hard Depression years and in the wake of the Great Migration, this generation of Black creative artists produced works of literature, music, and visual art fully comparable in distinction and scope to the achievements of the Harlem Renaissance.

This highly informative and accessible work, enhanced with reproductions of paintings of the same period, examines Black Chicago's "Renaissance" through richly anecdotal profiles of such figures as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Charles White, Gordon Parks, Horace Cayton, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, and Katherine Dunham. Robert Bone and Richard A. Courage make a powerful case for moving Chicago's Bronzeville, long overshadowed by New York's Harlem, from a peripheral to a central position within African American and American studies.


At one point in a 1989 interview, Chinua Achebe, author of the definitive postcolonial novel, Things Fall Apart (1959), responds to the younger writer Nuruddin Farah and his provocative questions regarding Achebe’s categorization of Nigerian literature written in English as “national literature” and Nigerian writing in Hausa, Ibo, and Yoruba as “ethnic literature”: “We were pioneers and pioneers have to make statements…. [But] these statements need not stand for ever. If someone comes up with a better idea, let these statements be disconfirmed” (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London). Robert Adamson Bone, widely respected yet sometimes dismissed as the Euro-American author of The Negro Novel in America (1958; revised, 1965; Japanese translation, 1972) may have felt a similar impulse to respond to his detractors. But, as far as I know, he never did. Maybe he chose not to do so because, as a young socialist in the 1940s and 1950s, he had struggled deep within himself to come to terms with the imperatives of “race” and social justice in the United States, years before he chose to dedicate his career to the study of “Negro” history and literature.

Robert had, I believe, too much humility in the face of the complex subject he studied to assert himself solely based on his privilege as a pioneer. He chose instead to continue his writing and research in a field that he felt still needed further exploration and to which he gave both respectful affection and critical attention as a teacher-scholar for more than half a century. His second book, Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story, was published in 1975 and reissued in 1989. He also published a monograph, Richard Wright (1969), in the University of Minnesota’s American Writers Series, as well as numerous reviews and articles on African American writing.

Like thousands of other students of African American literary tradition, I benefited from Bone’s book—when I first read it during 1972–1973 while preparing my NYU dissertation. And yet I felt no obligation to agree with him on everything, including the honest if tough-minded criteria by which he had developed his summary “Recommended List” of fifteen novels in a book that offered a sweeping survey from the beginnings to the 1950s—a century of African American fiction. I learned later that he had developed a parallel reputation as not only a caring mentor but also a demanding professor and tough grader at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he taught from 1965 to 1990. I also found out that this “New Haven boy” had returned to the East Coast after he lost his tenure battle at UCLA by a close vote: twelve to thirteen, according to Dorothea Bone. The nay-sayers apparently regarded The Negro Novel in America as a nonbook because they did not view its subject to be worthy of serious study! One might note that the UCLA tenure vote on Dr. Bone was taking place roughly at the same time as the U.S. Congress was debating the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act.

A year after I completed my Ph.D. in 1973, my family and I had returned to our native India for nine years. Consequently, I didn’t have an opportunity to meet Robert in person . . .

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