The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930

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It was W.E.B. DuBois who paved the way with his essays and his magazine The Crisis, but the Harlem Renaissance was mostly a literary and intellectual movement whose best known figures include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer.  Their work ranged from sonnets to modernist verse to jazz aesthetics and folklore, and their mission was race propaganda and pure art.  Adding to their visibility were famous jazz musicians, producers of all-black revues, and bootleggers.

Now available in paperback, this richly-illustrated book contains more than 70 black-and-white photographs and drawings.  Steven Watson clearly traces the rise and flowering of this movement, evoking its main figures as well as setting the scene—describing Harlem from the Cotton Club to its literary salons, from its white patrons like Carl van Vechten to its most famous entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong among many others.  He depicts the social life of working-class speakeasies, rent parties, gay and lesbian nightlife, as well as the celebrated parties at the twin limestone houses owned by hostess A'Lelia Walker.  This is an important history of one of America's most influential cultural phenomenons.

The first book in the Circles of the Twentieth Century series which focuses on writers, artists, poets, hostesses and patrons who played a role in moderism as we know it. Watson explores the lively and fascinating people who helped bring about what became known as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A grand tour of the time, place, and driving forces behind one of the nation's greatest cultural flourishings."—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This engaging portrait of the ``first self-conscious black literary constellation in American history'' mixes text with photos and artwork; a side column on each page offers quotes, poetry and pungent Harlem slang. Watson (Strange Bedfellows: The First American Avant Garde) explains the forces behind the Renaissance, from economic changes to the public advocacy of figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke, then offers sketches of writers prominent in this flowering. While the "New Negro'' movement was initially aimed at blacks, by the mid-1920s, ``Harlem became a commodity as driven by its audience as... by its participants. Harlemania set in.'' The role of white patrons (``Negrotarians,'' to writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston) prompted black writers to debate what image they should project. Watson also examines the Harlem music and club world, including the thriving gay scene. Although the crash of 1929 devastated Harlem and dispersed its luminaries, the author observes, the Renaissance was also rent by internal contradictions over questions of art, politics and racial unity. A most inviting blend of text and art. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In the second volume in the series "Circles of the Twentieth Century," devoted to avant-garde writers, Watson (The Harlem Renaissance, Pantheon, 1995) traces the lives of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and company from their initial meetings in New York to their rise to literary fame. Watson also examines confluent movements like the San Francisco renaissance and the Black Mountain School. Watson offers no startling revelations, but he writes gracefully and has a gift for synthesis. An innovative book design makes interesting use of the margins for quotations, photos, and brief notes. This lively companion to John Tytell's Naked Angels (LJ 4/15/76) belongs in most literature collections.-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679758891
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,466,014
  • Product dimensions: 7.33 (w) x 7.26 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Watson has written about the arts for a number of publications, including Newsday and The Village Voice.  A noted speaker, he has lectured at the National Portrait Gallery, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Gallery.  He lives in New York.

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