The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

Introduction
Of the Coming of the New Red Negro

Mob Voices: (snarling) Quick! Quick! Death there! The chair! The electric chair!

8th Boy:

No chair! Too long have my hands been idle. Too long have my brains been dumb. Now out of the darkness The new Red Negro will come: That's me!

- LANGSTON HUGHES, "SCOTTSBORO LIMITED"

The 1930s and 1940s saw the publication of significant works by such AfricanAmerican poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, Waring Cuney, Frank Marshall Davis, Owen Dodson, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Melvin Tolson, Margaret Walker, and Richard Wright. While some of these writers retain a relatively "minor" status within current assessments of African-American poetry, others, especially Brooks, Brown, Cullen, Hayden, and Hughes (and Wright for his fiction), figure prominently in virtually any survey of twentieth-century AfricanAmerican literature. With the exception of Cullen, and to a certain extent Hughes, the poets listed above developed their mature style during the 1930s and 1940s. Even Hughes, who was certainly an accomplished artist before the 1930s, developed more fully the poetic stance rooted in popular urban African-American culture with which he is most frequently associated by both "popular" and "literary" audiences.

Yet African-American poetry of the 1930s and 1940s has received little serious and focused scholarly consideration as a whole. The few studies that do treat poetry by black authors during those decades do so only as part of a larger survey (as in the case of Eugene Redmond Drumvoices) or as a coda to the study of an earlier period of lit-

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