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Apr 13 2020 - 02:22 PM
New Online Book Display: Classics of the Harlem Renaissance

It's not surprising that Drawing in Two Colors or Interpretations of Harlem Jazz pops up when I begin searching for inspirational art or music connected to literature. Winold Reiss' striking lithograph (circa 1920) celebrates African American culture in Harlem, by featuring a man and woman dancing boldly -- most likely in a night club -- African masks and sculptures, bottle, and piano in the background. With his daring combination of straight and rounded lines, and saucy shades of orange and black, Reiss invokes history, heritage, and the spirit of the new intellectual, social, and artistic movement that centered in Harlem from 1918 to the mid 1930s. It is attractive for a book display poster, and leads to an exciting discovery: its very close connection to the definitive text that influences the curation of titles for Classics of the Harlem Renaissance.

Reiss was commissioned by Survey Graphic Magazine in 1924 to make portraits of leading Harlem Renaissance figures, including writers. He provided complex visual illustrations, from portraits and "fantasies" to lettering and graphic design, for Alain LeRoy Locke's seminal work, The New Negro: An Interpretation (A.C Boni, 1925). Locke's influential anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays invited readers to explore a new vision of black identity through contemporary authors, like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and many others. With the flowering of literature and deep reflection on race and racial stereotypes, came the publication of sensational works of fiction and nonfiction -- titles worthy of news and history in shaping the New Negro Movement.

Curated by Jennifer Govan and designed by Carlie Zhang, Classics of the Harlem Renaissance celebrates literature of the era as key to understanding not only African American history and culture, but the Harlem Renaissance as a significant step towards the American ideal of freedom and opportunity.

This exhibit complements April Staff Picks, Teaching the Harlem Renaissance, curated by Rachel Alvater and designed by Trisha Barton.

Printed copies will be on display in November when Creating a Better World for All: Teachers College Celebrates the Harlem Renaissance resumes in honor of the 100th anniversary.

From “Heritage

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprang

When the birds of Eden sang?

One three centuries removed

From the scenes his fathers loved,

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,

What is Africa to me?

Cullen, Countee. Color. [Salem, N.H.]: Ayer, 1993.

Cafe PS3505 C89 1993

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

Dubois, W.E. The Souls Of Black Folk. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Cafe E185.6 .D797 1989. e-book

Manuela was tall and slender and graceful, and once you knew her the lithe form could never be mistaken. She walked with the easy spring that comes from a perfectly arched foot. To-day she swept swiftly down Marais Street, casting a quick glance here and there from under her heavy veil as if she was being followed. If you had peered under the veil, you would have seen that Manuela's dark eyes were swollen and discoloured about the lids, as if they had known a sleepless, tearful night. (From "The Goodness of St Rocque")

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice. The Works of Alice Dunbar Nelson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Cafe PS3507 .U6228 1988

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Modern Library, 1994

Cafe PS3555.L625 I5 1994

We’ve all of us got to make up our minds to the sacrifice of some thing. I mean something more than just the ordinary sacrifices in life, not so much for the sake of the next generation as for the sake of some principle, for the sake of some immaterial quality like pride or intense self-respect or even a saving complacency; a spiritual tonic which the race needs perhaps just as much as the body might need iron or whatever it does need to give the proper kind of resistance.

Fauset, Jesse Raymond. Plum Bum: A Novel Without A Moral. New York: Oshun Publishing, [2015]. e-book

Cafe PS3511.A864 P57 2015

There's no nigger- child of mine, yours, ours- no darkie- going to disobey me. I put him in that field to work, and he'll stay on this plantation till I get ready to let him go. I 'll tell Talbot to use the whip on him, too, if he needs it. (from Mulatto, by Langston Hughes)

Hansberry, Lorraine, Langston Hughes, and LeRoi Jones. Three Negro Plays. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Cafe PS634 .T52 1969

Literature is a big sea full of many fish.

Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea: An Autobiography. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.

Cafe PS3515.U274 Z5 1993

But was that why Negroes were poor, because they were dancers, jazzers, clowns? . . . The other way round would be better: dancers because of their poverty; singers because they suffered; laughing all the time because they must forget.... It’s more like that, thought Sandy.

Hughes, Langston, Not Without Laughter. Mineola, N.Y. : Dover Publications, 2007. e-book

Cafe PS3515.U274 N6 2007

The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway ....

He did a lazy sway ....

To the tune o' those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man's soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--

"Ain't got nobody in all this world,

Ain't got nobody but ma self.

I's gwine to quit ma frownin'

And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more--

"I got the Weary Blues

And I can't be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can't be satisfied--

I ain't happy no mo'

And I wish that I had died."

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

Hughes, Langston. The Weary Blues. New York: Knopf, 1945.

Cafe PS3515.U274 A6 2015. e-book

Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually underprivileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open faced laughter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive. You see we are a polite people and we do not say to our questioner, 'Get out of here!' We smile and tell him or her something that satisfies the white person because, knowing so little about us, he doesn't know what he is missing. The Indian resists curiosity by a stony silence. The Negro offers a feather bed resistance, that is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott Company, 1935.

Cafe TBA

It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins, [2000].

Cafe PS3515.U789 T5 1999

The question inevitably arises: Will the Negroes of Harlem be able to hold it? Will they not be driven still farther northward? Residents of Manhattan, regardless of race, have been driven out when they lay in the path of business and greatly increased land values. Harlem lies in the direction that path must take; so there is little probability that Negroes will always hold it as a residential section. But this is to be considered: the Negro's situation in Harlem is without precedent in all his history in New York; never before has he been so securely anchored, never before has he owned the land, never before has he had so well established community life.

Johnson, James Weldon. Black Manhattan. New York: Arno Press, 1968 [1930].

Cafe F128.9.N3 J67

Instinctively Helga was aware that their smiling submissiveness covered many poignant heartaches and perhaps much secret contempt for their instructors. But she was powerless. In Naxos between teacher and student, between condescending authority and smoldering resentment, the gulf was too great, and too few had tried to cross it. It couldn’t be spanned by one sympathetic teacher. It was useless to offer her atom of friendship, which under the existing conditions was neither wanted nor understood.

Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. Mansfield Center, CT : Martino Publishing, 2011.

Cafe PS3523.A7225 Q55 2011 e-book

She wished to find out about this hazardous business of passing, this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chances in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.

Larsen, Nella. Passing. New York: Penguin Books, [2018].

Cafe PS3523.A7225 P37 2018 e-book

Therefore the Negro today wishes to be known for what he is, even in his faults and shortcomings, and scorns a craven and precarious survival at the price of seeming to be what he is not. He resents being spoken for as a social ward or minor, even by his own, and to being regarded a chronic patient for the sociological clinic, the sick man of American Democracy. For the same reasons he himself is through with those social nostrums and panaceas, the so-called "solutions" of his "problem," with which he and the country have been so liberally dosed in the past. Religion, freedom, education, money--in turn, he has ardently hoped for and peculiarly trusted these things; he still believes in them, but not in blind trust that they alone will solve his life-problem....

Locke, Alaine. The New Negro: An Interpretation. New York, Arno Press, 1968.

Cafe E185.82 .L75 1968

The deep-dyed color, the thickness, the closeness of it. The noises of Harlem. The sugared laughter. The honey-talk on its streets. And all night long, ragtime and "blues" playing somewhere . . . singing somewhere, dancing somewhere! Oh, the contagious fever of Harlem. Burning everywhere in dark-eyed Harlem…

McKay, Claude. Home to Harlem. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987, c1928.

Cafe PS3525.A24785 H6 1987 e-book

Those of the upper class began to look around for ways to get darker. It became the fashion for them to spend hours at the seashore basking naked in the sunshine and then to dash back, heavily bronzed, to their homes, and, preening themselves in their dusky skins, lord it over their paler, and thus less fortunate, associates. Beauty shops began to sell face powders named Poudre Nègre, Poudre le Egyptienne and L’Afrique.

Schuyler, George S. Black No More: Being An Account Of the Strange and Wonderful Workings Of Science In the Land Of Free, A.D. 1933-1940. New York: Penguin Books, 2018. e-book.

Cafe PS3537.C76 B56 2018

Not that she minded being black, being a Negro necessitated having a colored skin, but she did mind being too black. She couldn’t understand why such should be the case, couldn’t comprehend the cruelty of the natal attenders who had allowed her to be dipped, as it were, in indigo ink when there were so many more pleasing colors on nature’s palette. Biologically, it wasn’t necessary either; her mother was quite fair, so was her mother’s mother, and her mother’s brother, and her mother’s brother’s son; but then none of them had had a black man for a father. Why had her mother married a black man? Surely there had been some eligible brown-skin men around. She didn’t particularly desire to have had a “high yaller” father, but for her sake certainly some more happy medium could have been found.

Thurman, Wallace. The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2015. e-book.

Cafe PS3539.H957 B53 2015

There is no such thing as happiness. Life bends joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, in such a way that no one may isolate them.

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Ancient Wisdom Publication, 2019.

Cafe PS3539.O478 C3 2019. e-book

Nigger Heaven! That’s what Harlem is. We sit in our places in the gallery of this New York theatre and watch the white world sitting down below in the good seats in the orchestra. Occasionally they turn their faces up towards us, their hard, cruel faces, to laugh or sneer, but they never beckon.

Van Vechten, Carl. Nigger Heaven. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Cafe PS3543.A653 N5 2000

What is beauty, and wherein does it reside? That is a hard question to answer, when we think that the mere shadow of a line makes a difference between beauty and the lack of it. But that greater question: What is personality? How many good men have addled their brains puzzling over it!

Williams, Edward Christopher. When Washington Was in Vogue: A Lost Novel of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Amistad, 2005.

Cafe PS3545.I52233 W47 2003

Top Image: Drawing in Two Colors, by Winold Reiss, circa 1915-1920, Wikimedia Commons


At the Everett News Cafe, you'll find a new book collection every few weeks that relates to current affairs, education, or learning environments.

Posted in: Learning at the LibraryNews Cafe|By: Jennifer Govan|1412 Reads