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

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

2 "The Strong Men Gittin' Stronger"
Sterling Brown and the Representation and Re-creation of the Southern Folk Voice

"Awake Negro Poets": Sterling Brown, the New Negro, and the New Red Negro

In the December 25, 1945, New Masses, an ad appeared for an awards dinner sponsored by the magazine and chaired by Howard Fast "Honoring Negro and White Americans for Their Contributions Toward a Democratic America." 1 Sterling Brown was to be given an award for his poetry at the dinner despite the fact that he had published virtually no poetry in the 1940s. 2 For that matter, except for a handful published in African-American and Left journals and anthologies, relatively few of the poems Brown wrote in the middle and late 1930s saw the light of literary day until The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown appeared in 1980. 3 On the other hand, Langston Hughes had published many poems during the first half of the 1940s (including five in New Masses.) While not as closely associated with the CPUSA as he had been during the 1930s, Hughes had remained a high-profile supporter of many organizations and activities initiated by the Communist Left -- for example, he was a sponsor of the New Masses dinner. Brown, while sympathetic to the Left (as were an the recipients of the New Masses awards), had a far lower political profile at the time of the awards dinner. 4 Yet Brown was to receive an award and Hughes was not. In essence, New Masses honored Brown in 1945 for his work in the 1930s and ignored Hughes, who was among the most productive African-American poets of the 1940s.

This seeming anomaly indicates the continuing attachment on the part of many critics of the Communist Left to the aesthetics generated by earlier CPUSA concep-

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