CAROLYN C. DENARD
Few periods in American literary history have been more widely remembered, re-evaluated, re-appraised, or re-examined than that period of intense literary and artistic creativity by Black writers in the 1920s called the Harlem Renaissance. The first such re-evaluation was the publication in 1971 of The Harlem Renaissance1 by noted historian Nathan Huggins. In this controversial study of the Renaissance, Huggins gave the first serious critical appraisal of the writers of the Renaissance and the impact of the social and cultural forces that converged in Harlem in the 1920s. While realizing its lasting merits to the future generations, Huggins criticized the writers of the Renaissance for not being sure enough of their own indigenous expressive culture--particularly the music--in the creation of the art of the Renaissance. Huggins summarized that the effort was mostly one that mimicked Whites rather than one that asserted an independent Black cultural identity.
Closely following Huggins's study was a collection of essays published in 1972 called the Harlem Renaissance Remembered2 edited by Arna Bontemps. Bontemps's review was initiated largely because of his own invaluable role as a participant in that movement. In this lively, informative collection, Bontemps and many notable scholars of the period tried to recapture the feelings, the mood, and the impact of the Renaissance: the excitement it engendered, the promise it offered to budding writers, and the good feeling that it left in the hearts and minds of many, like Bontemps, who participated in it.
A 1974 issue of Studies in the Literary Imagination, 3 edited by Victor A. Kramer--the germ of this current study--took a renewed look at the Renaissance. This collection, rather than having the first-hand flavor that characterized the Bontemps collection, took the more scholarly approach of looking at both