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

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

6
Hysterical Ties Gwendolyn Brooks and the Rise of a "High" Neomodernism

The project of connecting Langston Hughes Montage of a Dream Deferred to the "red" spirit of the 1930s is relatively easy owing to the existence of Hughes's "revolutionary" poetry of the 1930s (with direct appeals to class consciousness, worker solidarity, proletarian revolution, and antifascist unity), published in unquestionably radical (often Communist) journals that can then be compared to his work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Discussing Gwendolyn Brooks in this manner is obviously far more difficult, despite her association with Left-influenced organizations and individuals, since she does not have a similar body of overtly "radical" work. Nonetheless, on careful examination it is possible to see how Brooks's "high" neomodernist style in Annie Allen ( 1949), where there is a deliberate attempt by an African-American narratorial consciousness to create an "international" modernist documentation of the African-American subject, develops directly out of the formal and thematic concerns of the late 1930s and early 1940s transposed into the context of the "high" cold war. In many respects, Brooks is the cold-war poet of anger and self-repression par excellence.

One of the generally overlooked aspects of the early career of Brooks is the important role that the cultural network associated with the Communist Left played in Brooks's artistic development. Brooks's friendships with Leftists such as Theodore Ward, Margaret Walker, Margaret Taylor Goss (later Margaret Goss Burroughs), and former members of the South Side Writers Group, particularly Ed and Alden Bland, are often noted; sometimes her connections with such Popular Front organizations

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