WASHINGTON, D.C.--Is the current resurgence in Black literature
and enduring one or is it just a "spike"? What's driving it? Will it last?
And how should colleges and universities respond in their literature
These and other issues were raised recently by a distinguished panel
of writers, publishers and academicians on the live videoconference
"The Revival of Black Literature," sponsored by Black Issues In Higher
Moderating the event was former news anchor and president of
Bunyan Communications, Maureen Bunyan. Panelists included: W. Paul
Coates, founder and publisher Black Classic Press; E. Lynn Harris, a
current bestselling author; Sandra Kitt, author of Black romance novels;
Dr. Eugenia Collier, an essayist and the former chair of the Department
of English at Morgan State University; John Edgar Wideman, the first writer to
win the Pen Faulkner Prize twice; and Max Rodriguez, publisher of The Quarterly
Black Review of Books.
The question of whether the Harlem
Renaissance was a spike--an upsurge that
peaked and then fell off dramatically--or
"the" turning point in African-American
literature set the tone for the discussion."The
Harlem Renaissance was that period when
Black literature flourished, but I always like to
put it in context. It seems to me that when
there is a cultural expression, writing always
follows that," Rodriguez said.
"It followed not just a mass migration
from the South to the North, but also a great
movement around music, and a great
expression of self that found its way to New
York, because New York was always
`Mecca,"' he noted, adding, "There was a
literary movement prior to the Renaissance,
but for the first time we found writers who
were accepted by white audiences and white
publishers. And that really is what the Harlem
Renaissance was--the acceptance of our
expression by a white audience."
Collier asked: "Was acceptance of our
work by whites what caused the Harlem
Renaissance? And if we are in a renaissance
now, does its depend upon white acceptance
of our work?"
In comparing the Harlem Renaissance
to the present, Harris pointed out that one
difference today is that the success of
contemporary Black writers is being spurred
by Black readers, not by mainstream
acceptance. "One of the things that's been
most heartwarming for me at my signings has
been that it's been Black people who have
been buying my books," said Harris.
But there is a commonality, said Kitt.
"We may, as writers, be writing for our
communities and our people, but the
publishers are still mainstream publishers and
they are not [publishing Black writers! for
altruistic reasons but because they know there
is a market there and consumer dollars that
they could potentially benefit from. The
bottom line for publishers is still the money to
Other panelists agreed and Wideman said
the most important point to remember about
the Harlem Renaissance was not whether the
audience was Black or white, but that it was a
period of tremendous self-assertion.
"Whenever we see a change, it has to do
with consciousness, politics and with all the
cultural institutions being spiked in various
ways. And that energy--to me--was really
what the Harlem Renaissance was all about,"
Coates agreed with Wideman but added
that the Renaissance, while being centered in
Harlem, was not geographically limited to
that part of the country. …