The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

1
Foreground and Underground:
The Left, Nationalism, and the Origins
of the Black Arts Matrix

Literary expressions of nationalism by African American writers have a long foreground, going back to at least the portions of Martin Delaney's novel Blake that were published in serialized form in the late 1850s. While these published chapters of Delaney's novel did not circulate widely in the nineteenth century, certainly by the early twentieth century, black nationalist thought deeply marked the production of African American art, creating antecedents for the Black Arts movement that caught the attention of scholars from widely varying ideological positions. Tony Martin, for instance, has called our attention to the Garveyite literary circle around the magazine Negro World. Ernest Allen Jr. (Ernie Mkalimoto) and William Maxwell have investigated the impact of both Garveyism and the Left nationalism of the African Blood Brotherhood on the New Negro Renaissance. George Hutchinson, Barbara Foley, and Anthony Dawahare in their different ways have argued powerfully that the New Negro Renaissance was a form of cultural nationalism.1

However, a still relatively underconsidered period that is crucial for our understanding of the artistic nationalisms of the 1960s and 1970s is the left-wing arts subculture in the two decades following the New Negro Renaissance. The importance of this subculture (or overlapping subcultures) is not simply due to the enormous number of African American writers, playwrights, directors, actors, visual artists, composers, musicians, and dancers of the 1930s and 1940s

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