The Harlem Renaissance Authors Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

The Harlem Renaissance was a movement spanning from the 1920s to the 1930s in which African Americans celebrated their culture and creativity through many forms of art. This era was known as the “New Negro Movement” and was largely rooted in literature. The heart of this creativity all began in Harlem, New York, though its power eventually spread throughout the entire country. “Harlem became the largest residential center for blacks in the United States” (Haskins 1). The authors responsible for this creative effort during the Harlem Renaissance worked to celebrate and reconstruct the reputation of black culture through their writings of poetry, novels, and non-fiction. They made waves by boldly addressing the issues of race, class, religion, and gender in their work. African American expressed themselves through many forms of literature, but poetry was the most popular for this era. Harlem’s liveliness and flavorful atmosphere existed as a muse for the poets who experienced great success.

Poems were also written to expose the struggles that African Americans often experienced in their daily life. One of the main faces of this style of poetry was Langston Hughes. “…Hughes combined the pain he suffered in the past with a determination to assert his pride in being an African American. These two elements lay at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance” (Worth 50). Langston Hughes, like many other black poets at that time, wanted to create his own style of poetry that could easily be distinguished from whites’. Hughes worked to introduce and express the African American culture to America. Many of his poems are related to the real world, race, America, politics, and romance. Hughes won many awards for his poetry. In 1925 he won a forty-dollar award for his poem, The Weary Blues, in the Opportunity magazine. Hughes paved a pathway for African American poets to express themselves completely and to be accepted by society. Hughes was not the only poet who made an effort to promote African American culture; Claude McKay was another writer who was able to reach the white population. In the beginning of McKay’s writing days, he was interested in poetry and created a compilation of his work entitled Harlem Shadows in 1922.

Both Hughes and McKay were consistent with the idea that, “…a byproduct of African American writing was affirmation that black dialects were as legitimate as standard English” (Probst et al 742). Although the authors activated the renaissance in literature, Harlem served as an inspiration for their work. Claude McKay was heavily influ

enced by Harlem. He said it was a “paradise of my own people” (Worth 38). McKay also wrote a lot

about Harlem in his mid-thirties when he left America to explore Europe. He wrote Home to Harlem in 1926, and in it he described Harlem this way: “Harlem! …the rich blood-red color of it! The warm accent of its…voice, the [fruitiness] of its laughter, the trailing rhythm of its ‘blues’ and the improvised surprises of its Jazz” (Worth 39). McKay and other poets of the Harlem Renaissance introduced ghetto speech and rhythms of jazz and blues music in their verses. Jazz poetry portrayed jazz-like feelings of improvisation and rhythm and related the people, instruments, places and songs to the poetry. As Claude McKay’s career progressed, he became interested in writing fiction such as Home to Harlem. His novel was the first book written by a black writer from Harlem to be on the bestseller list.

The novel’s success was regarded as a controversy to the white community but as a great accomplishment for African Americans. Another writer to reach the bestseller list, Zora Neale Hurston, displayed bold character and was greatly appreciated for her work at a young age. “…Zora Neale Hurston who would become one of the most distinctive voices in American Literature…” (Chambers11). While growing up in Eatonville, Florida, Hurston would listen to the stories and folktales that were told and passed around at her local market. She incorporated the stories into her own fiction as she grew older (Worth 58). As a novelist, a folklorist and an anthropologist, Hurston tended to join anthropology and literature together in her work. One of her professors at Howard University was so intrigued by her writings that he introduced her to many different people in the world of literature who persuaded her to move to New York City. Hurston helped the black race stray away from traditional white literature and took pride in her culture.

Though her work was often criticized for being taboo, Hurston did not detour from her style and beliefs. The remarks and opinions did not sway the young author’s work. She continued to push the envelope and question the traditional American ways (Haskins 62). A few of her works, including “John Redding Goes to Sea” and “Spunk,” were even published in the famous black literary magazine, Opportunity. Opportunity was responsible for the beginning of many other writers’ careers by not only publishing their work but by holding literary contests. The opportunity for writers to promote their ideas was the backbone to the magazine, hence the name. A variety of awards were given to those who won the contests by doing so. The main editor, Charles S. Johnson, held many Opportunity dinners in Manhattan, New York to introduce black writers to white critics and editors. Johnson also introduced some black artists to some of his white friends because “he realized that their support was essential to broaden the audience for African American literature…he brought them together with the poets and the writers of the Harlem Renaissance to create a great flowering of culture” (Worth 51).

The idea that intellectually gifted young people should be promoted was also held by the black literary magazine Crisis. Creative writing and self-expression were encouraged the magazine. The chief editor for Crisis was W.E.B. Du Bois, who was also the founder of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Crisis was the magazine of NAACP and held literary contests similar to Opportunity. Du Bois consistently influenced those around him as he was a leader, author, and intellectual. He wrote about African American problems in the U.S. in his magazine and encouraged blacks to take pride in their culture and themselves. He had big dreams to “raise his race.” The Authors of the Harlem Renaissance shaped the future for aspiring black artists and writers with their work and accomplishments. In this time period, African Americans demanded the serious attention from whites that they needed and deserved. The Harlem Renaissance helped lead toward united races and an intensification of pride.

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