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

Overview

The Harlem Renaissance documents the lives and interactions of the first self-conscious African-American literary constellation and chronicles the brilliant outpouring of such writers as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, as well as the work of artists Aaron Douglas and Richard Bruce Nugent. Steven Watson also brings to life the world that supported these figures: the forefathers of the New Negro movement, W.E.B. DuBois and Alain Locke: the flamboyant hostess of ...
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Overview

The Harlem Renaissance documents the lives and interactions of the first self-conscious African-American literary constellation and chronicles the brilliant outpouring of such writers as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, as well as the work of artists Aaron Douglas and Richard Bruce Nugent. Steven Watson also brings to life the world that supported these figures: the forefathers of the New Negro movement, W.E.B. DuBois and Alain Locke: the flamboyant hostess of Harlem, A'Lelia Walker; such white Negrotarians as Carl Van Vechten and Muriel Draper, who headed Uptown to witness every thing from provocative nightclub revues to extravagant drag balls. The vogue for Harlem was also reflected in the golden age of jazz - one could hear Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, or Duke Ellington in glittering nightspots. Street maps, sociograms, and sidebars presenting little-known details, Harlem slang, poems, and song lyrics further evoke this short-lived era. Bringing together these fascinating lives and this legendary neighborhood.

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

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
Donna Seaman
Watson's no-holds-barred chronicle of Beat writers is part of the Circles of the Twentieth Century series, which is based on the belief that artistic innovation arises out of "constellations" of creative people. The theory is particularly appropriate when it comes to the close, even intimate friendships among the primary figures of the Beat movement: William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, and their icon and love object, the rapacious Neal Cassady. Watson juggles the life stories of each of these driven fellows in his fluid commentary, which is well supported by photographs, quotes, and sidebars. We learn the pertinent facts about each man's childhood and the winding paths that lead to their fertile, if turbulent relationships, which were based on a shared passion for experimentation with drugs, sexuality, and spontaneous literary expression. Watson covers all their wild adventures, documents the feverish creation of such galvanizing and influential works as "On the Road", "Howl," and "Naked Lunch", and describes the widening of the Beat circle to include such luminaries as Gary Snyder and Michael McClure. The Beats' fusion of life, legend, and literature was gutsy, unique, and indelible, and recognition of their importance continues to grow.
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679423706
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/14/1995
  • Series: Circles of the Twentieth Century
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224

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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