November 16th, 2017 by watsono

A Turn in Scholarship of the Harlem Renaissance

Literary scholar George Hutchinson responds to the question, “How have your ideas about the Harlem Renaissance evolved since you first began writing about it?” by looking back on his experiences in graduate school and teaching. He remembers writing about the Harlem Renaissance in relation to Walt Whitman, as a Whitman scholar who was deeply interested in African American literature. During this time, the Harlem Renaissance was not widely considered a successful movement and its contribution to modernism was racially divided rather than studied as an interconnected movement. Thus, most of the people studying “modernism” weren’t yet talking about African American writers.  Yet he marks a change in this trend. He started to notice the relationship between Whitman and black writers around the same time other scholars began to accept that these “modernisms” were inevitably intertwined. A new push to talk about authors that had been neglected or dismissed in the movement became necessary.

If I was going to contribute to McKible and Churchill’s questionnaire, I would ask scholars to consider:

How did these neglected writers coming into the limelight permeate literary movements across the globe?

I think it is essential to understand how the movement at large and its effect on modernism spilled out into the rest of the world, considering we already know it touched Ireland in meaningful ways – particularly for these writers that were dismissed earlier.



November 16th, 2017 by Janel

The Harlem Renaissance in Global Contexts

Houston A. Baker’s questionnaire response regarding the evolution of his approach to the Harlem Renaissance leads from criticisms of the movement during its time to contextualizing the Harlem Renaissance within a present day increasingly globalized world. He describes how Black nationalist and Black Arts advocates critiqued the Harlem Renaissance as an elitist movement that catered exclusively to the Black bourgeois and to white patronage. However, Baker complicates Black nationalist and Black Arts advocates’ critiques by pointing to the ways they, too, had a stake in white patronage.

In beginning with this analysis, Baker then moves toward an understanding of the Harlem Renaissance as a global project within its various multitudes of addressing intersections of gender, sexuality, class, and geographic location. His suggestion that any course he can imagine “might well commence with a newly conceptualized Harlem Renaissance” hones in on the versatility of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as its usefulness in applicability to current conversations across difference. Moving forward in Harlem Renaissance studies, Baker advocates for an understanding of the Harlem Renaissance in relation to place, specifically through study of migration and the multilingual: specifically, he references the French, Spanish, and African linguistic entailments of the productions of the Harlem Renaissance and suggests the field consider these elements through further inquiry.

How might we begin to approach study of the Harlem Renaissance’s global impact in various intersectional conversations on race, gender, sexuality and class taking place across the world? What are the most important ways in which the central ideas and aesthetics of the Harlem Renaissance continue to manifest in literary and artistic spaces?

November 16th, 2017 by grahamk14

Modernism/modernity- Houston A. Baker response

For this blog post, I read Houston A. Baker’s questionnaire response. For this response, Baker was asked the question, “how have your ideas about the Harlem Renaissance evolved since you first began writing about it?” Baker said that through other readings and literary works such as Arnold Rampersad’s of Langston Hughes and David Levering Lewis’s of W.E.B. Du Bois, Thadious Davis’s of Nella Larsen and many others, “the dramatis personae of the 1920s have been brilliantly illuminated.” Baker also talked about how it wasn’t only art and literary work that influenced the Harlem Renaissance but it was also geopolitical influences and gender expanses studies. Baker gives a majority of his credit to the brilliant scholars who have shaped his view of new complex global accounts. Baker spent time at the University of Pennsylvania studying anthropology and from that research, he wrote his first monograph, “Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.” Baker gives his credit to understanding modernism and the Harlem Renaissance to his students who were also teachers, teaching Baker about “matters of gender and sexuality, class, and global intersections of the works of those who populated the 1920s.” Lastly, Bakers ends his response to the question by saying that the Harlem Renaissance is a series of work that contains, “Haitian indigeneity, African negritude, Cuban vernacularity, global South collaboration, communist collectivity, and gender and identity politics, among other issues.” The Harlem Renaissance contains a lot of these aspects and if you look long enough, you can see them in many Harlem Renaissance works.

Question to add to McKibble and Churchill’s questionnaire: What African Americans, other than Claude McKay, impacted the Harlem Renaissance from a foreign country?

November 16th, 2017 by hange

Class – Cum Laude

Pamela L. Caughie makes a case for using the term “Negro Renaissance” rather than “Harlem Renaissance” by noting the classist connotations of the latter term. She give examples of how writers like Edward C. Williams, Nella Larssen, and contributors to the Messenger (especially from 1923-1926) participated in “class making”, or rather consolidating the “black bourgeoisie” by making distinctions between them and groups of African Americans with little to no education, social connections, and capital/possessions. The creation of the black bourgeoisie was done both by people who constituted it, even if they were critical of the class itself. The assessment of the black bourgeoisie differ, in the following example: Langston Hughes found “the best people” pretentious, while Brenda Ray Moryck found them charming. These differences in assessment can be used as “weapons in the class struggle”, which is important in evaluations of the Negro/Harlem Renaissance canon.

Caughie is more interested in the process of “class making” writers engaged in when they formed the Negro Renaissance canon. She uses the story of Davy Carr, the narrator and protagonist of When Washington Was in Vogue, as a central component in her article. It best exemplifies the formation of identity based on class, which Davy defines purely by a series of distinctions. Caughie uses that definition of class and form of identity formation to look at Nella Larssen’s Passing. She argues that Passing is a novel that exposes the class making process and how it can be applied to the making of other social divisions like race and decency. She wants to examine the “real issue”, which is how are standards for the canon determined and by whom.

Question suggestion: How did writers of the Harlem Renaissance situate themselves in the class struggle on the US-national level and on the international level?

November 16th, 2017 by olearyc

Modernism & Emily Bernard

In her response to the questionnaire, Emily Bernard, expresses that her ideas of the Harlem Renaissance have not changed significantly since she started researching, yet they have expanded. She was initially drawn to the Harlem Renaissance because of the intricate style and attractive clothing. She was interested in how style had the power to reconstruct a social or political movement. She strongly believes that there are close ties between art and politics. Additionally, Bernard discusses the role of whiteness in provoking anxiety for the “New Negro.” Bernard mentions her interest in Carl Ven Vetchten and how he impacted Black American artists. His controversial book Nigger Heaven resulted in mixed feedback from several audiences. Further, she felt that these very inconsistencies pertaining to the Harlem Renaissance are essential in the creation of racial identity. When asked the question “What figures, connections, or areas of inquiry require further attention or reflection? and What aspects of the Harlem Renaissance are we missing or ignoring,” Emily Bernard focused on the lacking representation of women within the movement. She notes that the impact of theater is often not incorporated into Harlem Renaissance research.She also provides information on different locations such as the Research Center at Howard University in which more research can be found on women’s impact in the Harlem Renaissance. The readings lead me to question what the purpose is of titling these historical movements when categorization often results in exclusion of different forms of art? Further, if modernism was considered more of an overarching title that included The Harlem Renaissance and other historical movements, would this alleviate the controversy?

November 16th, 2017 by Peter

The Marxist Implications of the Harlem Renaissance

In Barbara Foley’s Questionnaire, she states before all else that her responses “revolve around the need for a stronger Marxist presence” among Harlem Renaissance scholarship. She then scrutinizes the usage of “Harlem Renaissance,” which I appreciated as the term also bothers me. The problem with “Harlem Renaissance” is it implies that the movement was restricted to Harlem while Europeanizing its forms. Foley proposes the term “New Negro movement” instead to allow broader social and economic application; however, I do not like this term either for its vagueness makes it seem like a reactive protest rather than a historic proliferation of art and genius. Perhaps another artistic term must be invented rather than appropriating from a past European artistic period.

Foley emphasizes the societal import of Harlem Renaissance authors, contending that Claude McKay must be read as a “proletarian novelist,” Langston Hughes should be considered less “blues” and more “red,” and Alain Locke was an “anticapitalist militant.” Though these authors’ appeals for social change are vital to understanding their work, Foley neglects their standalone artistic value in favor of their social influence. Foley finishes by remarking on the increased openness of queer studies in scholarship but warns that this new lens may cause underlying Marxist ideals to be misconstrued as relating to gender instead.

What I would ask Foley is why she considers Marxism particularly important to understanding the Harlem Renaissance. The question I would add to the questionnaire is “What do we mean by ‘modernism’”? Though difficult to define, it is essential to establish an operative definition because modernism means different things to different scholars and their perception of it would influence how we are to interpret their responses.

November 16th, 2017 by Michaela

Modernism/Modernity Question

One contribution that the article “In Conversation: The Harlem Renaissance and the New Modernist Studies” has to the Harlem Renaissance is the idea of locating the Harlem Renaissance in “both time and space.” Many scholars do not know when and where to credit this movement. Some critics argue that the movement should be renamed in order to keep global literature in communication with the voices that are gaining momentum in America. Because of the difficulties placing the temporal location of the Harlem Renaissance, some scholars call for critics to rename the movement. This argument addresses the idea that the movement did not include every voice. If the movement was only structured in Harlem, some voices would not be included because of their location in the United States. This is relevant because, at the time the piece was written, the movement was approaching its centennial anniversary. Meaning that after almost one hundred years, critics could not decide if they wanted to cut voices away from the movement because they are not located in the city or the fact that the name demonstrates a United States perspective while continuing a geocentric point of view.

I really think the fact that the questionnaires ask what the movement is missing shows a quality that not many leaders possess: the ability to recognize that no movement is perfect. I think that is a very brave question to ask people because it can collect information on how to keep the movement alive. On that note, one question that could be considered on the questionnaire is “What time period do you associate with the Harlem Renaissance?” I think the question can allow for different interpretations as to what era and location different scholars associate the Harlem Renaissance. It would be interesting to see when people believe the movement ended, or if aspects of the movement continue today.


November 16th, 2017 by glassq

What Class Got Ta Do Wid It

Pamela Caughie, in “‘The best people’:The Making of the Black Bourgeoisie in Writings of the Negro Renaissance,” ignites an interesting conversation about the relevance of class in the writings of the Harlem Renaissance. Though she examines the role of class, Caughie is particularly interested in class-making; what are those ontological signifiers of class?  Not a new investigation, but Caughie’s approach requires a genealogical excavation of class and specifically in relation to Black people. Caughie’s study forces readers to consider how material objects can define class more than monetary possession. Quasi-polemicial, Caughie contends that similar to race, class becomes identifiable by one’s body. Their gestures begin to portend their social upbringing. Caughie’s essentialist mentality towards class, risk over-generalizing and excluding others. It suggests that reinforces archetypes that stifle social progression, namely, for the working and middle classes .While reading Caughie’s article, I questioned: how does one’s class status affect their reading of poetry during the Harlem Renaissance? Caughie implies that bodily gestures become linked to social class, then is one’s perception too influenced by their class?

November 15th, 2017 by Angst Bear


In looking Professor James Smethurst’s responses to the Modernism/modernity special issue questionnaire, I found his answers responded to a larger picture of an expanding intellectual HR community. In the question about the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance, modernism, and/or modernity,  Smethurst responds in terms of both physical community and larger movements. He believes that the relationship is dialectical within conversation on art, music, dance, and writing. He attributes these aspects to the “bohemian” side of African artists being affected by the space they inhabited. By inhabiting the space of ghettos and other small urban communities. In those communities, he believes blacks and whites were “more or less peers,” in that it became an interracial gay community as well. As new modern black communities, he believes that these spaces translated old traditions and practices as a way of shaping modernism in America. At the same time, Smethurst writes, Modernism was also affected by the various international social movements of the time. He mentions Langston Hughes and Claude McKay and their fascination with international communism as an example. In the second question on how his ideas of how the HR have changed, he writes that he has been more convinced of a connection between the gay community and the HR. In his following questions, he addresses how he wishes to see more conversation on sexuality in the HR, as well as more focus on art and writing form cities such as Philadelphia and Boston. He wished to see the questionnaire include more details about the connection to international connections of the movement. Being a class on both the Celtic Revival and Harlem Renaissance my first question narrowing down his would be:

  1. What relationship should the Harlem Renaissance have with the international communist movement? How do they connect to modernity?
  2. How else have metropolitan spaces affected the Harlem Renaissance? What do you think is the urban environment’s most important contribution to the Harlem Renaissance?

November 15th, 2017 by kailabasile

George Hutchinson M/m forum

George Hutchinson considers some of the Harlem Renaissance writers modernists, wary of grouping all HR writers together, but only in today’s conception of modernism (though debated). The traditional modernism of the 60’s and 70’s was white-dominated, but rethinking of the concept has made way for AA writers to be included. Hutchinson was first introduced to the movement as a movement that failed and whose key writers were overlooked until black feminism, rethinking modernism, etc., and he has noticed less emphasis on the categories of “black” and “white” modernism, and an incorporation of transnationalism into studies of HR writers. The emergence of performance studies/other arts into modernism has also played a large role in the recognition of modernism.

Hutchinson calls for an expansion of the study on the HR. He thinks the localization of Harlem is problematic, because it is so associated with the roaring 20’s and implies the HR died with the Great Depression, when the movement actually had a much larger span and did not just take place in night clubs, but in colleges, libraries, and other institutions that do not end as abruptly as many claim the HR does. He also implies that the HR must be extended out of the US, incorporating the transnational lens, but also considering that many HR activists were also activists in other movements and identified with migration and displacement.

If I could add questions to this questionnaire, I would ask:

  1. What figures of the Harlem Renaissance were overlooked, and deserve to be examined with more emphasis? (For example, were there prominent or promising writers of the time that were not published in the Crisis or other periodicals, who may have had a greater impact if they were popularized? Are there writers that other key figures, such as WEB DuBois, overlooked or dismissed during the time of the HR?)
  2. Where is the Harlem Renaissance located, outside of Harlem? How much does migration and diaspora inform the HR?

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