literature meme | two of two movements | the harlem renaissance
the harlem renaissance (c. 1918–37) was a blossoming of african american culture, particularly in the creative arts, and the most influential movement in african american literary history. embracing literary, musical, theatrical, and visual arts, participants sought to reconceptualize “the negro” apart from the white stereotypes that had influenced black peoples’ relationship to their heritage and to each other. they also sought to break free of victorian moral values and bourgeois shame about aspects of their lives that might, as seen by whites, reinforce racist beliefs. with much of the literature focusing on a realistic portrayal of black life, conservative black critics feared that the depiction of ghetto realism would impede the cause of racial equality. the intent of the movement, however, was not political but aesthetic. any benefit a burgeoning black contribution to literature might have in defraying racial prejudice was secondary to, as langston hughes put it, the “expression of our individual dark-skinned selves.”
the nucleus of the movement included jean toomer, langston hughes, rudolf fisher, wallace thurman, jessie redmon fauset, nella larsen, arna bontemps, countee cullen, and zora neale hurston. an older generation of writers and intellectuals—james weldon johnson, claude mckay, alain locke, and charles s. johnson—served as mentors.
the harlem renaissance influenced future generations of black writers, but it was largely ignored by the literary establishment after it waned in the 1930s. with the advent of the civil rights movement, it again acquired wider recognition. never dominated by a particular school of thought but rather characterized by intense debate, the movement laid the groundwork for all later african american literature (like that of gwendolyn brooks and robert hayden) and had an enormous impact on subsequent black literature and consciousness worldwide.
(clockwise from the top left: zora neale hurston, anne spencer, jean toomer, langston hughes, arna bontemps, and gwendolyn brooks)