Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance

By Coit, Jonathan S. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance


Coit, Jonathan S., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Ed. by Steven C. Tracy. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 523, bibliography, index. Cloth, $50.00.)

Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance, edited by Steven C.Tracy, richly describes and analyzes the historical context for such critical works as Richard Wright's Native Son (1940), Gwendolyn Brooks' Pulitzer-Prize willing Annie Allen (1949), and Lorraine Hansberr/s A Raisin in the Sun (1959). It is an important reference work that will stimulate further research on this fascinating and influential literary movement.

The book contains an introduction by Tracy, twenty- five essays focusing on important Renaissance figures, and five essays tracing the institutional and intellectual influences that shaped their lives and work. The term "Black Chicago Renaissance" is used to describe the work of a group of writers and artists (roughly from the 1930s to 1950s) with ties to the South Side Writers Group founded by Richard Wright in 1936. "Black" distinguishes the group from the earlier Chicago Renaissance (1890 to the 1920s) of white writers, including Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Carl Sandburg. "Chicago" distinguishes it from the "Harlem Renaissance," of the 1920s, in which the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with white publishers and patrons, supported the work of young black authors such as Langsten Hughes, Nella Larsen, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neale Hurston.

The collection deftly illuminates the elements that distinguish the Black Chicago Renaissance from these two earlier literary movements, while highlighting the connections between all three movements. The white Chicago Renaissance influenced the later Black Renaissance through its use of new forms and techniques to represent the brutal realities of life in the modern industrial city. But it was in post-World War I New York where a movement of African -American artists first gained the institutional support and audience necessary to explore black life and culture and expose the pernicious effects of racial violence and white supremacy. If the Harlem Renaissance showed that a group of writers and artists, in close dialogue with each other and their audience, could create a successful literary movement, their work, Tracy argues, demonstrated a "penchant for atavism" and optimism about the political value of art (p. 9). Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance, taking their cue from Wright's 1937 critique of the Harlem Renaissance, "Blueprint for Negro Writing" were more directly engaged in political activism than their Harlem Renaissance counterparts. …

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