An Abstract of Bound No’th Blues: Patricia Liggins Hill, African American History and Culture, 1915-1945
Harlem, New York was an immense cultural center for black literary artists to freely express their ideas. During the 20’s and 30’s young black literary artists responded to the call for a cultural movement. Harlem gave close access to publishing houses and helped facilitate a community of openly shared inspiration. Artists flew there. The result was a cultural supernova. The independent artist arose inspiring generations. Attitudes began to change.
The Literary Magazine: ‘The Crisis,’ welcomed writers to submit their work. The literary magazines provided opportunity by challenging black literary artists to represent the voices of their people. Possibility for young black literary artists to have an audience wasn’t common at all before this time. Artists expressed themselves by writing past, present, and future experiences of their people in narrative, poetry, and song.
The Writers’ Response: Two generations came together during early Renaissance days. The older generation, who recognized the need for cultural change, made the initial call. Both generations recognized their roles as race leaders. By reverberating the voices before them the new generation each created their own sparking self-awareness in the role of independent artist. They created distinct voices, some whimsical and ironic, others satirical and judgmental.
Women poets of Harlem Renaissance widened the eyes of African American and black women’s poetic tradition. But they suffered restricted professional opportunities in an environment of male dominance. Because they could not get patronage, women lived short careers. Alain Locke would provide patronage to those he chose to, and he chose to support men such as Countee Cullen, over women such as Ann Spencer. With no financial aid, talented women like Ann Spencer and Helen Johnson would disappear from the literary scene completely, in fact all women poets suffered, with exceptions of Douglas Johnson and Cowdery.
Art or Propaganda: Intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance found themselves with conflicting views concerning the purpose of black art. Literary theorist W.E.B Du Bois argued that all art was for promoting racial and social change. Alain Locke argues that art is made for art’s sake, for the beauty of it. Throughout the 30s it was clear the two scholars were waging a literary war that would draw a line the artist must walk. While Du Bois insisted art must take a political place, Locke argued that truth is ought to take the place of propaganda. The debate reflected fusion of the old and the new generations. But hard times came again after the stock market crash of 1929. The artists stepped back from the desire for American mainstream acceptance, to examine harsh realities. There was a depression to surmount, there was lynching, increased unemployment, race riots, a World War, floods, droughts- all to overcome. When reformation came to Harlem black literary artists turned back to their roots.
Harlem remained a great cultural center for black literary artists to freely express their ideas. During the Renaissance poetry stood out as distinctively excellent: novels, short stories, and essays, narratives spoke volumes. The voices sang to the world deep knowledge of one’s community and oneself. Ringing out resounding sounds hatred, anger, racism, heartache, heartbreak, and love, humanity heard what wrongs it had done. Struggle continued as artists continued to represent challenges placed before them doing so with beauty, power, and lyrical captivation.