The Harlem Renaissance: The One and the Many

The Harlem Renaissance: The One and the Many

The Harlem Renaissance: The One and the Many

The Harlem Renaissance: The One and the Many

Synopsis

During the Harlem Renaissance, African-American culture flourished. The period gave birth to numerous significant and enduring creative works that were at once American and emblematic of the black experience in particular. Even though those who contributed to the Harlem Renaissance recognized that they had much in common, they also distinguished themselves from one another. This book approaches the Harlem Renaissance from the perspective of the conflict between individual and group identity. Central to the imaginative effort of the era was an unresolved tension to construct an individual as well as a collective identity; this tension continues to characterize contemporary African-American culture.

Excerpt

Harlem, the Harlem of the 1920s has never been entirely absent from our minds. But one had to know where to look to keep in touch with that remarkable generation of poets, novelists, playwrights, painters, essayists, and musicians who collectively represent what is now known as the Harlem Renaissance. It has been a difficult search at best; the individuals, let alone their works, had all but vanished from view. In the 1960s, however, the American public began to discover what only a few remembered and a few others had sought to keep alive. In Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967), Robert Bone, The Negro Novel in America (1965), and in the explosive response to the photographic exhibit "Harlem on My Mind" held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1969), the renaissance centered in Harlem was reborn.

Soon, most of the literature of that time and place was reissued; scholars began to comb overlooked archives and private collections; books and dissertations appeared; conferences blossomed; and universities as well as high schools began to teach the writings of Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes, among others. We stand in their debt, for this scholarship has enriched our understanding, recreating a past that was too quickly neglected and too quickly forgotten. This scholarship, however, was more than the celebration of an earlier generation, for there was also a sense that what took place was flawed in its very inception and thus predetermined to be somewhat inconclusive.

Harold Cruse was one of the first to call attention to the Harlem Renaissance ("something ... which has not been adequately dealt with in the history books") and to link this outburst of creative energy with what he argued to be the problematic cultural identity of present-day black Americans, a people "left in the limbo of social . . .

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