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The Harlem Renaissance
Forcing Inclusion into Restrictive Cannons

The Harlem Renaissance
  • Harlem Shadows; (by )
  • Mule Bone a Comedy of Negro Life (by )
  • Harlem Shadows the Poems of Claude Mckay (by )
  • The Harlem Renaissance: a Handbook (by )
  • African-American Collection (by )
  • Passing (by )
  • Quicksand (by )
  • Black Love and the Harlem Renaissance: ... (by )
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The cannons and anthologies of American art have not always included the works and lives of African-American writers, philosophers, painters, and actors. Their works are often described as subgenre: African-American literature, African-American art, African-American film. During the Great Migration (which was succeeded by the Second Great Migration) in the early 20th century, waves of Black folk journeyed northward to the New York City neighborhood of Harlem where the Harlem Renaissance was born. 

Claude McKay, a Jamaican-American poet, was a seminal figure in the renaissance. His collection of poems, Harlem Shadows, published in 1922, included the works “Harlem Dancer” and “If We Must Die.” In the latter, McKay demonstrates the civility with which African-Americans dealt with debilitating racism. He writes,

If we must die, let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot/While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs/Making their mock at our accursed lot./If we must die, O let us nobly die/So that our precious blood may not shed/In vain; then even the monsters we defy/Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!  (pg. 53)

Beauford Delaney, a modernist painter prominent during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, created scenes depicting contemporary African-American life. Perhaps his most iconic piece, “Can Fire in the Park” (1946), captures a common scene during the Great Depression. 

Women figured strongly during the social, political and artistic movement. Zora Neale Hurston, the author who collaborated with poet and author Langston Hughes (a key figure in the renaissance) on Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life, published her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937.Journalist, writer, poet, and artist Gwendolyn B. Bennett crafted fiction and essays that chronicled advancements throughout the movement, specifically for the periodical The Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, published by the National Urban League. 

African-Americans, barred access to the many civil and artistic liberties enjoyed by their countrymen, created the Harlem Renaissance to amplify their voices and put themselves on par with the dominant culture. 

By Logan Williams

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