Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

"For a Few Days We Would Be Residents in Africa": Jessie Redmon Fauset's "Dark Algiers the White"

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

"For a Few Days We Would Be Residents in Africa": Jessie Redmon Fauset's "Dark Algiers the White"

Article excerpt

"The battle ground of the race is no longer-bounded by America's shores. Today, It is the world"

from "The American Negro and Foreign Opinion", William S. Nelson

The Crisis, August 1923

American scholarship on the Harlem Renaissance has, until recently, been strongly U.S.-centric, but the work of many of the important writers of the New Negro-era has an international dimension, as writers attempted to place the African American struggle for political and civil rights and cultural authority in larger, often global, contexts. Recent scholarship has revealed that the term, "Harlem Renaissance," used as a rubric to characterize the flowering of black culture-building and political activism in the first years of the 20th century is something of a misnomer.

While Harlem was certainly a central site of political and creative activity during the period between the wars, and carried great symbolic weight as "the Mecca of the New Negro," it was by no means the only American site: Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also provided settings for vibrant black political and intellectual life. Moreover, although conventional scholarship has tended to emphasize the centrality of the United States and the Great Migration in the New Negro movement, London and Paris, as imperial metropoles, also drew black intellectuals and political activists from across the black diaspora. Many of the figures commonly anthologized under the rubric, "Hartem Renaissance," were not based in New York (Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, Marita Bonner and others) and several, such as Claude McKay, were not even American.

Many of the major writers and artists of the Renaissance period were widely traveled in Europe and Africa Alain Locke, for example, lived and worked in Washington, D.C., but regularly visited not only Hartem but France, Germany, and Italy. Langsten Hughes wandered and worked through West Africa, France, and Italy before settling in Hartem, and Claude McKay wrote his famous novel Home to Hartem while sojourning in London. The most widely taught Hartem Renaissance novel, NeDa Larsen's Quicksand, is informed by the years Larsen lived as a girl in Denmark, and complicates the Great Migration motif with a comparison of Hartem to Copenhagen and the novel's close in the rural South. W.E.B. DuBois, of course, was profoundly aware that the civil rights struggle of people of color in the United States was linked to the struggles for liberation of "the darker races" around the world.

Black intellectuals who were not as well-known on the national stage- faculty of the major African American universities, schoolteachers and aspiring artists- often used their summers to travel to France, Italy, and other European countries' and black performing artists regularly toured the major cities of Europe during this era. While many New Negroera artists and writers looked directly to Africa as a way of understanding and talking about African American identity, history, and culture, many of their ideas of Africa were mediated through their personal travels in Europe as well as their awareness of colonial struggles2 in Latin America as well as the African continent. It might be more accurate to think of Harlem as a major nodal point through which black international discourses flowed, and to look at the work of canonical Harlem Renaissance writers as engaged in transnational conversations about the nature of black identity and culture in an arena characterized by transatlantic as well as north-south American migrations and sojourns.

Jessie Redmon Pauset was one of the most widely traveled and prolific writers of the New Negro-era. Although her four novels-There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931) and Comedy: American Style (1934)-have received much critical attention in the last twenty years, thanks to feminist scholars who challenged earlier characterizations and dismissals of Pauset as a chronicler of the trivialities of black bourgeois life, there has been little conversation about the transnational dimensions of Pauset's work. …

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