What is Harlem Renaissance?

Harlem Renaissance is a literary movement that emerged exclusively in African American area of Harlem, New York in 1920s. A mass migration had taken place in Harlem from the South after the World War I. This particular Renaissance refers to artistic, cultural and social aspects of writing about race and the African American's place in American life during the early 1920s and 1930s.

The movement began with the publication of Jean Toomer's novel "Cane" (1923). This novel investigates the lower class life of the African American who in many ways is still connected slavery as well as the life of the urbanized "New Negroes" who loses sight of his spiritual heritage because he is too intent - on pursuing material thinks. Toomer's novel was one of the first to treat the subject of African American life with dignity, respect and realism. Other Harlem Renaissance writers are Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Cullen etc.

In the literary history of America, Harlem Renaissance starts from the end of the First World War to the depression years of the 1930s. Many prominent writers produced different poetry, essay, drama and fiction centering on the culture and traditions of the African American. Thought the subjects were variants, the main concerns were on the themes of alienation due to color discrimination and marginality of the African American. The writers were heavily influenced by the jazz and the blues music tradition and the folk materials. It was overall awakening: political awareness, cultural revitalization, rebirth in the renaissance art and the revival of the Black African cultures.

It was a revival because many proponents of it urged for a "back to Africa" for inspiration in art, music, literary themes and culture at large. However, black intellectuals were unprepared for the rude shock of the Great Depression, and the renaissance was shattered by it. An additional reason for the failure in the twenties and early thirties was the naïve assumptions about the centrality of culture, unrelated to economic and social realities. Blacks, unlike the other immigrants, had no immediate past history and culture to celebrate.

Published on 5 May 2018 by Kedar Nath Sharma

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