Shining for the World to See: Works of Three Black Women Writers during the Harlem Renaissance Examined

By Sahir, Wanda | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Shining for the World to See: Works of Three Black Women Writers during the Harlem Renaissance Examined


Sahir, Wanda, Black Issues in Higher Education


Shining for the World to See: Works of Three Black Women Writers During. the Harlem Renaissance Examined

Women of the Harlem Renaissance, by Cheryl A. Wall, an associate professor of English at Rutgers University, is a welcome addition to the scholarship on women of this period. Excellently researched, this book focuses on the lives of three women writers -- Jessie Redmon Faucet, Nella Larson, and Zora Neale Hurston. Together, they epitomized the voice, tone, style and vision of Black women writers in New York City during the 1920s and early '30s -- the period of the Harlem Renaissance.

Zora Neale Hurston's use of dialect, as reflected in Black folk-culture, made her work unpopular, just as Claude McKay's depictions of everyday life among the working class in Harlem and Langston Hughes' interjection of jazz or blues themes in poetry, were literary expressions looked down on by northern Black patrons of the "New Negro" art.

In her essay, "How It Feels To Be Colored Me," Hurston says, "But I AM NOT tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes....I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow gave them a low down dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it....No, I do not weep at the world -- I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife."

Mother of the Renaissance

Hurston, of the three, was atypical in her thinking. Most of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance were Northern born and wrote in the stylized forms of the day.

Some of the Renaissance writers had never met the "tragic Negro" they sought through their writings to transcend. When Faucet went to Fisk University to teach, she told W.E.B. Du Bois that she was looking forward to seeing how the other part of the race lived. Hurston is, perhaps, one of the only writers that had the experience of being raised in a Black rural town. Her memories of Black southern life in Eatonville, FL, added a dimension to her work that was unparalleled. Recognition of the value of Hurston's work came posthumously. She was the first woman to be included in the canon of Harlem Renaissance writing. Hurston stood at the door welcoming her sister authors and artists into the society that ignored them when they were alive and soon forgot them once they were dead.

Faucet, raised in Philadelphia, and the first Black woman to matriculate at Cornell University, could be called the mother of the Harlem Renaissance. Brought on board The Crisis, the NAACP house organ, by its managing editor, Dr. Du Bois, Faucet assisted him in selecting the works of many of the great young Harlem writers such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, Claude McKay, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Mary Effie Lee and Jean Toomer for publication. Not only was Faucet an excellent editor and journalist, she freely shared her expertise and literary contacts with unexposed writers. The prolific, multi-lingual Faucet published several books. Her second novel, Plum Bun, is considered one of her best.

In the chapter on Faucet, Walls re-creates the climate that produced, then sustained, the Harlem Renaissance. As a central figure in this period, not only for her advancement of the works of fellow artists, but because she published so extensively, Faucet gets short-changed in Wall's account of her work. …

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