The Harlem Renaissance was a time period that occurred mostly during the decade of the 1920s. The late 1910s is considered to be the emergence of it while the mid-1930s is considered to be the end of it.
There were many figures during this time period, such as Langston Hughes and Zora Heale Hurston. One thing these individuals had in common was, they were all writers. Both of them wrote poetry, fiction, and essays.
They contributed to the Harlem Renaissance through their poetry and writings. They are both integral to the movement because their actions left a legacy on today. This was a time of empowerment for the African American community through artistic expression because society had been oppressive towards the community for a series of centuries. The Harlem Renaissance has had an important effect on modern-day society because of the figures during this time, how their actions changed the condition of race relations, it was regarded as a positive movement, and art generally has an ability to shape the minds of several individuals. The condition of race relations and the economic climate before the Harlem Renaissance was complicated and troubling, due to slavery and oppression. There is a multitude of reasons for why the Harlem Renaissance started, such as achievement of African Americans during a certain war and the low quantity of works created by African Americans and writers.
What preceded this movement was a controversial economic climate. The purpose of this movement was to improve the quality of how society treats issues of racial division. Specifically, starting this movement was a way for society to address the race problem. For example, “The Harlem Renaissance was a somewhat forced phenomenon, a….directed by leaders of the national civil rights establishment for the paramount purpose of improving race relations in a time of extreme national backlash, caused in large part by economic gains won by African Americans during the Great War” (Lewis, 926). The Harlem Renaissance started, due to a low quantity of writings by African Americans.
So there was not sufficient representation of African American art. So when it started, there was a lot of shock. For example, “Because so little fiction or poetry had been produced by African Americans in the years immediately prior to the Harlem Renaissance, the appearance of a dozen or more poets and novelists and essayists seemed all the more striking and improbable” (Lewis, 926). For example, Paul Laurence Dunbar who wrote poetry and novels was one of only a few African American writers.
There was a low amount of African Americans who were creating art. However, it would take over a decade for another writing by an African American writer to emerge, who was Claude McKay. For example, “Death from tuberculosis had silenced poet-novelist Dunbar in 1906, and….Since then, no more than five African Americans had published significant works of fiction and verse. This relative silence was finally to be broken in 1922 by Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows, the first book of poetry since Dunbar” (Lewis, 926). Ultimately, the Harlem Renaissance was a time to create racial harmony through artistic expression. Harlem received a lot of attention, due to it being an area with a high black population. Harlem was considered a place of importance.
For example, “During the 1920s and 1930s, Harlem developed a reputation as the cultural and intellectual mecca of the Black world, the headquarters of the New Negro Movement, which scholars and students of African American literature known as the Harlem Renaissance” (Harrison). It was a time of major attention, that had many elements of intelligence. It is believed that the Harlem Renaissance is divided into three time segments. The difference in the time segments had a lot to do with the association of the artists and the civil rights movement. Attitudes were slightly changing. There is criticism among academic scholars over which “renaissance” was the most significant. In an article titled “Selecting the Harlem Renaissance” by Daylanne K. English, she presents a variety of statements in opposition to scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr, regarding the Harlem Renaissance and which renaissance was powerful in terms of its impact.
Gates believes that there were at least four time periods and marks certain decades as the times being relevant to them. Gates and English are at odds when it comes to their interpretation of the 20th century, in terms of the Harlem Renaissance and whichever one was most significant. For example, Gates makes an assertion that “He dates the first renaissance from about 1890 to 1910; the second and “most famous” renaissance, the New Negro movement, from about 1920 to 1929; the third, the Black Arts Movement, from “1965 to the early seventies;…
.” (English, 807). English opposes this argument by stating that the culture of the African American community has significantly remained over the course of the 20th century. She feels that the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the literature and culture of the 20th century has subjectively been determined by others.
English asserts, “African American culture has sustained vibrancy and power throughout the century; it is, instead, our criticism – our version of cultural history – that ascribes rise-and-fall patterns to our culture in general, in this instance to twentieth-century African American culture, especially literature” (English, 807). English has many assertions regarding this movement. She asserts, “Moreover, the Harlem Renaissance seems, for many critics, to represent a ready cultural and historical parallel to today’s abundant African American cultural production” (English, 808). She is stating that since the Harlem Renaissance has had a massive impact, that it is an important mark of the history.
Hughes was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance because of the impact that his writings left on the culture of this time. Hughes wrote poetry, fiction, and essays. Hughes wrote works that had a powerful and insightful effect on its readers. Hughes had a distinctive approach to his writing, that embraced and show a positive reflection of African American culture at the time. Hughes would incorporate themes of music in his poetry.
For example, “More concretely, like no other artist associated with the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes embraced jazz and the blues in his work as a means of validating the originality and value of African American vernacular culture” (Wipplinger, 166). Hughes wrote one poem that was critically praised as powerful. For example, “James Weldon Johnson read the poem that took first prize, “The Weary Blues,” Langston Hughes’s turning-point poem, combining the gift of a superior artist and the enduring, music-encased spirit of the black migrant” (Lewis, 927). However, Hughes was once critical of a writing titled certain work “The Negro Art-Hokum”, which was written by a writer named George Schuyler (Lewis, 932). The writing by Schuyler motivated Hughes to write an essay titled, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (Lewis, 932).
This particular writing had a tone of frustration that sounded condescending and that appears to ridicule African American writers based on a philosophy that he presented in the writing. Schuyler is frustrated most likely due to his personal philosophy that involves the perception of how certain works are created, from an African American point of view. For example, “Hughes’s turning point essay had been provoked by Schuyler’s essay in the Nation, “The Negro Art Hokum who subscribe to the idea that their work can only be perceived as African American.
For example, Hughes won an award, based on a novel tilted Not Without Laughter. The novel was written at a time when Hughes was enrolled in higher education. The novel was based on a family who deals with racial difficulties. The main character in this work gains insight as to how he can prove that he is equal to others. The novel at the time was deeply connected to the condition of how society treated race issues at the time. For example, “..
..and completed Not Without Laughter, his….
The Ministry of Culture decreed Hughes worthy of the Harmon Gold Medal for 1930″ (Lewis, 935). Hughes received positive critique of his work from others at the time. Another important figure of the time was Hurston. Zora Heale Hurston wrote fiction, poetry, plays, and essays. She was important to the Harlem Renaissance based on her willingness to address certain problems and tackle through adversity. She showed determination despite the issues that she faced in her personal life and the issues that others presented about her literature. She faced criticism from many writers and one of her associates, for not addressing topics pertaining to race. Hurston wanted to offer her insights with the hope that others will not dismiss her.
But this was a challenge that she encountered. For example, “Another issue related to the struggle for voice, visibility, and validation is the opposition she faced from other African American writers,….among them her former professor Alain Locke and the protest writer Richard Wright, both of whom criticized her for not addressing “the race problem”.
” (Harrison). There is a documentary about her life that addresses these topics. For example, “More than anyone else, she rejected victimhood, problematized conventional assumptions and wishful thinking about racial integration, and celebrated the cultural integrity and dignity of the everyday lives of ordinary African Americans,….” (Harrison). Her impact on this movement was seen through a positive reflection in her works.
But she was not as commonly recognized as Hughes. However, she left an impact on modern-day society. Although she was not remembered well, students in academic institutions across American society in today’s society have positive critiques and have accepted her work as an integral part of African American history. For example, “Today scholars and students of African American studies, women’s studies, American literature, folklore, and anthropology are participants in what has become a posthumous embrace of Hurston’s versatile life and work” (Harrison). Her works have been included in many academic subjects in today’s society.