Thursday, November 16th, 2017...9:04 pmwinslowo

Maureen Honey’s Response to McKible and Churchill’s Questionnaire

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Maureen Honey addresses the question of  how she understands the relationship between modernism and the Harlem Renaissance in her response to McKible and Churchill’s questionnaire.  She begins by discussing the difficulties that minority groups had in entering into the literary canon before the Harlem Renaissance.  For example she mentions women writers and African-American writers.  These difficulties for marginalized artists to integrate themselves into the elite, critical sphere stemmed from the “new historicist” canon of appreciation.  She claims a small minority of white, upper class critics decided that reading literature without any regard for its historical or social context was the most effective and true from of criticism.  As the Harlem Renaissance began, thus began the “undermining of the elitist critical scaffolding on which the modernist canon has rested”(441).  New artists, writers, and poets engaged in a form of “New Poetry” in which “plain diction, the ordinary, and the vernacular” (442) was the main focus.  Consequently, Harlem (and other cultural/intellectual hubs like Greenwich Village and Paris) brought several different forms of plain diction and vernacular together to create a mutually diverse modern canon of literature.  She acknowledges that later on modernism was canonized with a whitewashed brush, but that it actually started in these very communities.  She backs up this conclusion with the claim that, “African American modernist poets, like their white counterparts, also used the sonnet and other traditional forms but in new ways, as they participated in imagism, polyphonic writing, blank verse, and other formal experiments of the New American Poetry.” (443).  The driving point of this quote however, is that the essential aspect of African-American writing from the Harlem Renaissance is the community from which it came, not the form that it takes.  To view it in a vacuum would be to take away its importance and significance.


Question to add to McKible and Churchill’s questionnaire:

At what point (if ever) did you feel you became aware of the fact that you may have neglected works because they did not fit into the white, elite modernist canon?  –as opposed to the mutually diverse modernist cannon.



1 Comment

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 21st, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Owen–good summary of / engagement with Honey’s response overall–though I think you’ve replaced an old-school (or even proto-) New Criticism with “new historicism” here. A very 220ish point, I realize! How might Honey’s response inform your final anthology project?

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