The Emergence of the Renaissance in Black Literature
T he first stirrings of black literary activity that would foreshadow the Harlem Renaissance were evident in the years immediately before and shortly after World War I. During this period several black writers began publishing work that differed significantly from either the Chesnutt or the Dunbar traditions in black literature. These writers came from extremely diverse backgrounds and worked independently of one another in widely scattered areas of the country. Like Chesnutt and Dunbar, they published their initial work primarily in white magazines, and their initial literary contacts were generally with white writers and editors. They were not yet part of a literary movement, but their experiences and the direction that they took in their art served as an important prelude to the Harlem Renaissance. And, in the mid-1920s most of these writers, together with other young blacks, would meet in Harlem and be proclaimed as the founders of the new black literary movement.
The first of the new writers to publish was James Weldon Johnson. Johnson is especially important because, more than any other writer, he was a transitional figure whose early work was in the Dunbar tradition but who later became a significant poet and critic of the Renaissance. Chronologically Johnson, who was born in 1871, belonged to the generation of Dunbar and Chesnutt, and his first published work, a dialect piece patterned after Dunbar's popular poetry, was accepted in 1899 by Century