MEG- 06 AMERICAN LITERATURE | Write a short note on The Harlem Renaissance | IGNOU
English Literature

MEG- 06 AMERICAN LITERATURE | Write a short note on The Harlem Renaissance | IGNOU

During 1920s, African – Americans in the North and Midwest of the United States blossomed in terms of creative and intellectual activity much more so than in Harlem. The three-square-mile New York City area was teeming with black artists, academics, writers, and musicians. African American enterprises fueled the neighborhood’s bustling environment, from newspapers, publishing houses, and music labels to clubs, coffee houses, and theatres.

Several of the era’s most influential literary and creative personalities came to or went through “the world’s Black capital,” structuring a time in which African American creators asserted their culture and racial pride in the face of racism and differentiation.

The Harlem Renaissance has its roots in the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, wherein hundreds of poor black people moved from the South to crowded urban regions with better economic and cultural prospects. For African American artists and intellectuals, it was “a spiritual coming of age,” as editor, journalist, and critic Alain Locke put it, as they grabbed their “first opportunity for communal expression and self-determination.” Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Georgia Douglas Johnson, among other Harlem Renaissance poets, examined the splendor and anguish of black life and strove to define themselves and their society out beyond white preconceptions.

Literature from the Harlem Renaissance took several forms and covered a wide range of topics. Some writers, like Claude McKay, combined culturally European forms––one of which was the sonnet––with a revolutionary attitude of defiance, like in “If We Must Die.” Others, such as James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, infused their poems with ragtime, jazz, and blues rhythms, bringing uniquely black cultural creations into their compositions.

During 1914-1919

The periods marked the start of the Great Migration, a phase from 1916 to 1970 throughout which millions of African Americans fled from the South to the North to escape the oppression and widespread racism that characterized life as a Southern slaveholder or rent farmer. They were looking for some well  paying jobs that had become vacant as a result of World War I, which had blocked away cheap foreign labor from Europe and compelled white American labourers to join the military.

MEG- 06 AMERICAN LITERATURE | Write a short note on The Harlem Renaissance | IGNOU


A meal at the Civic Club honouring African American writers is said to have kicked off the literary part of the Harlem Renaissance. When Countee Cullen and W.E.B. DuBois socialised with members of the white literary establishment, doors opened: Alain Locke, an editor and critic, was granted the chance to write an issue of Survey Graphic on “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro,” that eventually had become a biographical study. Writers affiliated with the Harlem Renaissance were already producing pretty major pieces even before Civic Club luncheon.


These were the years when Alain Locke’s collection, The New Negro: An Interpretation, was published, which also included writings by La

MEG- 06 AMERICAN LITERATURE | Write a short note on The Harlem Renaissance | IGNOU
MEG- 06 AMERICAN LITERATURE | Write a short note on The Harlem Renaissance | IGNOU

ngston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston and attempted to describe the artistic Harlem Renaissance. However, the economic expansion that had fueled the growth of African American community in the 1920s was about to come to an end. A stock market fall in October 1929 triggered what came to be known as the Great Depression. Millions of people lost their jobs, and African Americans, who were often the “last recruited, first fired,” were particularly severely impacted.


Harlem had been altered by poverty and civic negligence by the 1930s. But while experts disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance came to an end, some saw the 1935 Harlem racial conflict as just a perfect end to the movement. When news spread out that a black Puerto Rican youngster had been killed by police for shoplifting a ten-cent penknife from a nearby store, over than 10,000 people rushed to the roads in Harlem. The protests quickly devolved into violence, resulting in three lives, 125 detention, and more than $200,000 in damage to property. Harlem underwent changes as a result of other economic issues, and many residents relocated. Writers from the Harlem Renaissance had a huge influence on the development of the modern poetry, influencing the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts movement as well as worldwide art movement.

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