Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined

By Victor A. Kramer; Robert A. Russ | Go to book overview

"WHAT WERE THEY SAYING?":
BLACK WOMEN PLAYWRIGHTS OF
THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE

NELLIE Y. MCKAY

The history of the Harlem Renaissance continues to engage both the scholars of Afro-American cultural and intellectual history and those of literary and aesthetic criticism even now, more than fifty years after that period came to an end. The impact of this brief, exciting interlude in the development of black arts and culture was sufficiently powerful to have influenced every succeeding generation of black writers and critics. In the field of literary studies, a great deal has been said and written about the period, and many of the writers who produced the works have, and rightly so, been heralded, applauded, and given the critical treatment that brings public recognition of their achievements. In our times, the names of Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay have become synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance and the development of Afro- American literature in the early twentieth century. Yet our ability to name these writers with authority is only the beginning of our knowledge of the Afro-American literary terrain of the 1920s. More work remains to be done to bring others, no less worthy than those with whom we are familiar, into full public view.

The excitement of the Harlem Renaissance was recaptured by the scholarship that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s. This work, consciously aggressive in its affirmation of black culture, opened up new avenues of awareness of the importance of the early period, and the self-assurance it engendered has led to dynamic re-visionings of the meaning of the Afro-American experience and its relationship to the larger American society. In this new awareness, the contributions of some of the women who were prominent in the cultural and intellectual life of black America, from Phyllis Wheatley in the eighteenth century to writers and thinkers up until

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