Monday, September 22, 2014

Literary Look: The Harlem Renaissance

Welcome to my second installment of Literary Look! My first post was on the Beatnik Generation (which you can read here.)  Today I'm here with some information on and recommendations from the Harlem Renaissance.

Quick Overview 
The Harlem Renaissance spanned the 1920's and was a cultural movement that included art, music, and literature. Harlem, New York was the hub of this movement and was packed with talented artists from the African American community, who had migrated from the South to the Northeast and Midwest. So many amazing examples of art came out of this period that I think the best way to learn about this movement is through the art itself.

One of the most well known leaders of the Harlem Renaissance is Langston Hughes. Hughes wrote prose, plays, and poetry, but his poetry tends to be the most popular examples of his work. His poems include Let America be America AgainDemocracy, Mother to Son, and Harlem (A dream deferred). His poem Harlem (A dream deferred) was written in 1951 after the decline and decay of Harlem and is extremely powerful.

Another poet, Claude Mckay wrote such poems as If We Must Die and The Harlem Dancer. If We Must Die was one of the earlier poems to come out of Harlem and acted as as catalyst to art dealing with themes of oppression and overcoming obstacles.

One of my favorite poems from this movement is Yet Do I Marvel by Countee Cullen. This poem's theme of race oppression is so powerful. The last line of this poem hits you like a punch in the gut.
Highlights in the form of novels include Nella Larson's Passing, which I loved!, the works of Zora Neal Hurston such as Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the most interesting novel from this movement I have read is Jean Toomer's Cane. This novel is written in an experimental from. The tone of this novel is the most powerful element of this novel and conveys the themes more so than the characters or plots.

Music was a huge influence to the literary artists of this time. Jazz music filled the veins of Harlem, and everyone wanted to be a part of the music this town was producing, Such artists as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday are still known and loved today.

The Decay of the Dream
By the mid 1930's Harlem, much like the rest of the US was greatly affected by the great Depression. Poverty had wrecked the city, and those with money had left fearing that violence would soon follow the decline of the city. By 1964 Harlem's population was 95% black and less than 20% of the businesses in Harlem were owned by the black population of the city. That meant that any revenue made in the stores left the city each night with the business owners. Riots and violence soon racked the city, and it seemed that as Hughes had suggested in his poem Harlem (A dream deferred), the dream had exploded.

Leave me your favorite art pieces from the Harlem Renaissance below!

Previous Literary Look: The Beatnik Movement


  1. What a great series! I'm really loving it! Keep it up!

  2. Such a cool idea for a series! Thanks for sharing this - honestly I didn't know anything about the Harlem Renaissance before reading this, so I've learned something new already. I look forward to more!

    1. Yay!! Glad to hear you like the series and you're getting introduced to new literature. I find literary movements so interesting and love learning where novels fit in on a timeline of literature.
      thanks for stopping by!