A burst of diverse Black American writers flowered creatively through the US from 1915 to 1929, a period which we now refer to as the Harlem Renaissance. After World War I there was a brief period of economic prosperity during which places like NYC and Chicago became ripe with opportunities that attracted many Black Americans from the south in the hope of a better life. This migration sparked innovative ideas, music, and calls for social change in these major cities of the north. Black American artists, intellectuals, writers, dancers, thrived and made Harlem in the Manhatten area of NYC a hub of cultural richness. Here developed nonconformist attitudes, unconventional lifestyles, new fashions, new art, and new ideas that typified the explosion of new Black American literature.
Important Harlem Renaissance Authors
Richard Write (1908-1960)
One of the most distinguished authors of this period is Richard Wright. Published in 1940, Native Son was a masterpiece novel. It posed the difficult question to readers about when does violence become a personal necessity. This book exploded complacency about Black issues in America by painting an uncomfortably vivid picture of issues from inequality and racism.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)
Hurston became interested in preserving Black American folklore while still in college and after graduating in 1927 continued her studies of Black oral traditions. Out of these studies came Of Mules and Men in 1935, an autoethnographical account of Black American folklore, and her own masterpiece and one of my favorites, Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Despite the exploration of racial tensions, abusive relationships, and finding self-worth despite all obstacles, it was criticized by some, like Richard White, for not being bold enough. They thought she was not leveraging her work to bring much-needed light to critical sociopolitical issues and that this was tantamount to failure as an artist. However, years later scholars began to focus on the importance of the Black American folklore during the Harlem Renaissance and Hurston’s work began to be seen as vital to the overall tapestry.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
A successful poet and author of the twenties who is still immensely well-liked today, Langston Hughes was perhaps most the most popular to come out of the movement. He was not only the face of the literary movement but also the iconic image of the lively Jazz Age. He also attempted to capture Black American folklore in his writing and to capture the rhythms of jazz in his poetry. His main aim was to inspire pride in tradition and thereby unit Black Americans.
The Great Depression
With the stock market crash of 1929, the Harlem Renaissance came to an untimely end. However, the great works of the Harlem Renaissance still survive. They are the living voices of the Black American experience during the start of the 20th century.