Black Bohemia: When the Negro Was in Vogue
B y early 1926 the basic ingredients that gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance had been assembled. The literary foundations had been laid, and a generation of young black writers was ready to join those who had already established themselves. Fire!! symbolized the spirit and self-consciousness of these writers. The black intelligentsia, alerted by Charles S. Johnson's Civic Club dinner and Alain Locke's The New Negro, stood waiting like anxious parents to applaud the artistic endeavors flowing from the pens of their young writers. As the Renaissance took root, Harlem was transformed, at least in the popular mind, into a bohemia which not only housed a literary movement but which offered excitement and entertainment to those whites daring enough to venture uptown and directly sample the primitive and exotic pleasures that abounded there; this image of black bohemia also could be packaged and delivered to those less daring, who were content to experience Harlem vicariously through art, literature, and popular culture. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance would explore this bohemia in both their lives and their writings, and it would influence the literature that many of them produced. It gave birth to a fascination with black life and black culture that certainly helped account for the success of the Harlem Renaissance.
Popular fascination with black life was directly related to the emergence of the black bohemia in Harlem. In 1922 Claude McKay left New York partially because his growing literary reputation isolated him from the street life that he enjoyed so much. Most of the writers who remained