(46) Harlem Renaissance.
(L. Hughes, C. Cullen, C. McKay, Z. N. Hurston, and J. Toomer).
A f r o - A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e
[See "Background for Topics 45-46..."]
L a n g s t o n H u g h e s ( 1 9 0 2 – 6 7 )
L i f e :
- of a complex racial orig.
- underwent a series of various jobs, worked as a busboy in Washington D.C., when V. Lindsay launched his lit. career by publicising him in local papers
- supported himself after college by conducting a reading tour, travelled the US, Rus., China, and Japan, and asked to participate in a film to be shot in Rus. x but: the film never made
W o r k :
- the 1st Af.-Am. to achieve an international reputation
- a versatile personality: a poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, ed. Af.-Am. anthologies, author of autobiog., biographies, histories, journalistic writing, and trans.
- also wrote librettos, film scripts, songs, and children’s books
- drew on folk songs, folktales, and the rhythms of blues and jazz
- introd. the ‘Blues Stanza’ = any number of stanzas rhymed AAa BBb, incl. a lot of improvisation on the theme of hard life, in the tradition of lamenting and complaining: problematic relationships, alcohol, drugs, etc.
P o e t r y :
The Weary Blues (1926): a coll. of poems celebrating the black culture and jazz music
P r o s e :
Not Without Laughter (1930): a novel on the everyday Af.-Am. life
The Ways of White Folks (1934): a coll. of short stories; admired D. H. Lawrence
‘The Simple Series’:
- incl. Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Simple Takes a Wife (1952), and The Best of Simple (1961)
- his major work, a series of character vignettes and sketches for a journal
- the central character = the humorous and street-wise Harlem worker Jesse B. Simple comments on contemp. issues, and communicates his opinions to an educated black narrator
I Wonder as I Wander (1956): an autobiog. account of his childhood and travels
D r a m a :
Mulatto (1935): a successful play performed on Broadway
C o u n t e e C u l l e n ( 1 9 0 3 – 4 6 )
L i f e :
- b. in NY City, adopted by the Methodist Reverend in Harlem, and accepted his name
- received uni education in a primarily white community > lacked his own experience to comment on the lives of oth. Af.-Am. or to use pop. Af.-Am. themes in his writing
- started writing poetry when 14, had his poems publ. in The Crisis, The Opportunity, Poetry, & oth.
- became an assistant ed. of The Opportunity
- befriended with the prominent figures of the HR
W o r k :
Color (1925): his 1st coll. of poems, publ. the same y. he graduated from college
The Black Christ (1929): a long narrative poem
“Incident”: describes a childhood trip to Baltimore
C l a u d e M c K a y ( 1 8 8 9 – 1 9 4 8 )
- b. in Jamaica
Songs of Jamaica (1912):
- a coll. of rural poems in an authentic local Jamaican dialect
- a romantic glorification of the soil and the black race
Constab Ballads (1912):
- a coll. of poems in an authentic local dialect
- his own experience as a policeman: city = the symbol of evil, social and moral decay, and racial tensions
Spring in New Hampshire (1920):
- publ. in London when he lived in En.
Harlem Shadows (1922):
- publ. by a national publ.
- a conventional form x but: themes of racial pride, social protest, and occasionally militancy
- the ‘revolutionary sonnets’: “If We Must Die”
Also wrote: pop. fiction, novels, and short stories
Z o r a N e a l e H u r s t o n ( c a 1 9 0 1 – 6 0 )
L i f e :
- b. in Eatonville = the 1st Af.-Am. community attempting an organised self-government – see her Their Eyes Were Watching God
- daughter of travelling preacher > full of anecdotes, humorous tales, and tragicomic stories heard in her childhood
- a flamboyant and charismatic figure, played a major role in the HR
W o r k :
- an anthropologist, folklorist, and fiction writer
- conc.: the move of people from the country to the city, and the strength and wisdom they carry with them in the form of folkways, stories, and music
- POV: so distinctly her own that she seldom pleased anyone entirely, and sometimes no one at all
x but: presented the ‘black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings’: this POV lacked in Af.-Am. lit.
Mules & Men (1935): a series of anthropological stories of voodoo among the Af.-Am.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): a love story set in the Eatonville community
Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939): a re-creation and reinterpretation of the Old Testament Hebrews as characters of Negro folktales
Dust Tracks on the Road (1942): her autobiog., probably her finest novel
J e a n T o o m e r ( 1 8 9 4 – 1 9 6 7 )
L i f e :
- of mixed racial orig. > preocc. with his ‘racial composition and position’
- married 2x, in both cases to white women, and in the 1st to a descendant of A. Bradstreet
- thought of as an outstanding example of the ‘New Negro’ in lit. x but: left for Fr. to study phil., reproached for his leaving Harlem by L. Hughes, & oth.
W o r k :
- a poet, fiction writer, playwright, and essayist
- a contr. to the leading Af.-Am. journals The Crisis and Opportunity, and to experimental magazines
- an experimental modernist masterpiece
- an intermixture of poetry, prose, and plays
- an obvious inspiration in folk song, folktales, and the Af.-Am. patterns of speech
- a celebration of the physical, psychic, and aesthetic freedom
- concl: the triumph of exotic and primitive impulses over the tyranny of culture
- praised by S. Anderson and H. Crane
Blue Meridian (1936): a long poem trying to find an artistic solution for racial problems
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.
McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.
Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.
Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.
Flajšar, Jiří. Semináře: Americká literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.