Cultural Contributions of the Harlem Renaissance
African American Writers and Artists of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance also produced a large number of talented writers, including Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. McKay wrote poems in forms such as the sonnet, while Hughes split off from formal poetry, writing free verse and often using jazz music to inspire it. Langston Hughes became a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and was a poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist. Hughes gained readers worldwide by centering his works around the African American experience and racial pride. His first poem to be published—"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"—appeared in The Crisis, a magazine published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. Before making his name as a writer, Hughes was working in a restaurant when he encountered American poet Vachel Lindsay, who was dining at the establishment. Hughes placed some of his poems on Lindsay's table. Initially annoyed at the intrusion, Lindsay became interested after reading the works and had them distributed to national newspapers. This exposure garnered Hughes instant success and a university scholarship. Hughes went on to write several volumes of poetry, novels, and plays based on his short stories. His manifesto "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" relates his ideas about the unique perspective black writers and artists have to offer.Visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance also included African motifs and folk art in their aesthetics. Aaron Douglas, a painter, used geometric motifs that blended the art deco style with specifically black spiritual themes. His illustrations for the book God's Trombones, by James Weldon Johnson, portrayed Christian themes using black characters.
Contributions of African American Women in the Harlem Renaissance
Female African American writers and visual artists were vibrant participants in the Harlem Renaissance. They contributed not only their works but also a willingness to fight for inclusion of black art in the national literary and visual art landscape. Zora Neale Hurston, an American writer and folklorist whose work focused on the lives of African Americans in the rural South, wrote novels about black characters in their own vernacular. In addition she studied and collected African American folklore, writing essays about black rural culture and incorporating her research into her fiction. Hurston, who was alternately a maid and a traveling actor in her teenage years, graduated from Barnard College and did graduate studies at Columbia University. She also became a staff member of the Library of Congress and taught drama at North Carolina Central University, which was called North Carolina College for Negroes at the time. Hurston wrote plays and novels that gave readers a new perspective on Southern rural life for African Americans. The novel for which she is most famous is Their Eyes Were Watching God. Many of her books were not published until after her death. The manuscript for Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," relates her numerous interviews with Cudjo Lewis. Lewis was a survivor of the last black slave ship to arrive in the United States. Hurston's manuscript was rejected for publication because of the vernacular language she insisted remain intact. The manuscript was stored at Howard University and was finally published in 2018.American sculptor Augusta Savage's portrayals of prominent African Americans such as W.E.B. Du Bois gained her a following. In 1929 she received a three-year fellowship to study in Paris. By the early '30s, in the midst of the Great Depression, she and many other artists came back to the United States. Savage, an activist for inclusion of black artists in national projects, founded the Harlem Community Art Center. Harlem thus became the birthplace of a new crop of black artists supported by the previous generation.