Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: Harlem Renaissance Revisited

Title The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Arts, and Letters
Author Ogbar G., Jeffrey O.
Rating ****

This book is a collection of fourteen scholarly essays on the Harlem Renaissance, that flowering of black culture in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s. It centered on Harlem, and is most known for its impact on the arts, but it involved intellectual pursuits across the spectrum. Editor Ogden divides the essays into five parts: Aesthetics and the New Negro; Class and Place in Harlem; Literary Icons Reconsidered; Gender Constructions; and Politics and the New Negro. The New Negro was a concept that was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance, and also the title of one of the era's definitive books, an anthology of black writing edited by Alain Locke.

As usual in an anthology, the essays vary in quality. Some tend to suffer from an overabundance of academic terminology. Some are less interesting than others. Among the stand outs are "No Negro Renaissance: Hubert H. Harrison and the Role of the New Negro Literary Critic" , which discusses Harrison's critique of the Harlem Renaissance in which he argued that calling the period a Renaissance diminished great Negro artists of prior years; and "Harlem Globe-Trotters: Black Sojourners in Stalin's Soviet Union" about the African Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union and found an acceptance they could not find in other countries, certainly not in the United States.

Editor Ogden is to be commended for book's production values. Each essay has footnotes following the essay as well as a bibliography. Brief biographies of the contributors follow the essays, as does the most outstanding feature, an index of the whole work. For example, if you look up "Du Bois, W. E. B." you get every page he was referenced in all the essays.

It is a well-done work, overall, though probably is not the book to read for an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance. It is a valuable work for scholars of the era, bringing in fresh ideas about an important period in history.

Publication The Johns Hopkins University Press (2010), Paperback, 272 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0801894611 / 9780801894619


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