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The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  148 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro -- the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Bla
Hardcover, 944 pages
Published February 1st 2018 by Oxford University Press, USA
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Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, favorites
Labyrinthine and exhaustive in detail, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke does far more than what its title suggests. The 944-page biography of course meticulously charts the trajectory of Locke's life and work, paying close attention to the pivotal role the gay Black intellectual played in kickstarting the Harlem Renaissance, and draws a detailed portrait of a complex personality. At the same time its scope extends beyond Locke—and peers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Coun ...more
This is a very long book. It won the 2018 National Book Award for Non-fiction. This is the biography of Alain Locke (1885-1954), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the mentor to many black artists.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Stewart also interviewed many people that knew Locke. Locke was the first African American Rhodes Scholar. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His main idea was that African-American communities could be crucibles of creativity. T
Kasa Cotugno
This is a massive tome (over 900 pages), well researched and lovingly written. I had never heard of Alain Locke before, but his accomplishments were profound. Hailed as the architect of the Harlem Renaissance, he gained degrees in philosophy from Harvard and was the first African American Rhodes Scholar. Full disclosure -- I did not read this from cover to cover, and would not have chosen it had I known its ponderous size (unlike its subject who was quite diminutive), but I give it highest marks ...more
This lengthy biography adopted its title from Alain Locke’s publication in the 1920s that captured his and others writings from the early Harlem Renaissance but the bio doesn’t spend anytime analyzing that book.

Locke, who was African-American, was an influential professor and patron of African-American art and culture. He graduated from Harvard with a PhD in Philosophy and was the first African-American to be awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1903. He did not complete his degree at Oxford there du
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a tremendous achievement. The best biographies are always about much more than the subject and that is the case with this one. It is about being gay and Black in the victorian era. It is about the tension of seeking money from white donors to do black art. It is about the Harlem Renaissance and the divisions between Locke, Hughes, DuBois, Hurston, etc. It is about racism and misogyny even within the black art scene. It is about the American and European art and literature scene and how it d ...more
Brian TramueL
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
(((( B R E A T H )))) This was an incredible long read for me but very worth it. Alain Locke is/was not well known, but he IS an important figure as he provided inspiration for more well known artists.

Jun 18, 2018 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Carmen by: The New Yorker
Locke became a "mid-wife to a generation of young writers," as he labeled himself, a catalyst for a revolution in thinking called the New Negro. The deeper truth was that he, Alain Locke, was also the New Negro, for he embodied all of its contradictions as well as its promise. Rather than lamenting his situation, his marginality, his quiet suffering, he would take what his society and his culture had given him and make something revolutionary out of it.
Porter Broyles
The 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning book about the "Father of the Harlem Renaissance".

You would think that this book would easily rate 4 or 5 stars.

So why am I giving it a weak 3 star rating? Because I felt that the author missed a golden opportunity.

The Harlem Renaissance (AKA the New Negro Movement) is a period of American history that most American's do not know existed. Those who are familiar with it, are probably mostly familiar with it because of the impact it had on music (the birth of Jazz)
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Though regarded as the "dean" of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain LeRoy Locke's name is not one that usually comes to mind when most people think of the movement. Yet it was the Philadelphia-born philosopher who provided much of the intellectual framework for it, most notably with his concept of the "New Negro." That Jeffrey Stewart uses the name as the title for his in-depth biography of Locke both highlights its role in defining Locke's legacy and the degree to which it was a product of Locke's o ...more
[Name Redacted]
This book is a MESS. It's loaded with "Current-Year-isms" ("gender identity," "patriarchy," "queer-consciousness," etc.). The author even celebrates Locke being molested as part of Alain's childhood "initiation" into homosexuality. Yet at the same time, Stewart HEAVILY relies on outdated 1980s-era psychoanalysis and 3rd wave feminsit misandry towards straight black men. Readable? Sure. But less history, more screed.

E.G.: Stewart (and perhaps Locke? he seems to project his ideas onto Locke so oft
An incredibly dense but rewarding read. I learned so much about the Harlem Renaissance, the changing views of Black art and culture, and the movers and shakers in the Black intellectual spheres of the 1920s-40s.

This is, primarily, a philosophical and intellectual biography of Locke. Where Stewart examines Locke's relationships, it's in the interest of how they influenced his worldview and philosophy. At times, this means that it's harder to grasp what Locke's daily life was actually like. There
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
It took a while to get to the core of the book, but once there it was very rewarding. Stewart did a massive amount of research. The book is best for a real academic or someone with a very strong interest in Locke and his personal position in the first half of the twentieth century. Stewart is meticulous in tracing the debates about the relationship between African art, European heritage, African American artists and the black and white audiences of the time. The positions of the various intellec ...more
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: biographyhistory
I only knew a couple of things about Alain Locke before reading this so I found it pretty informative.

Among the things that struck me:

(1) How much life for African-American intellectuals changed from his formative years (the late 1800s) to when he became famous after the publication of "The New Negro" in the 1920s.

In his early years, he was obsessed with gaining acceptance from mainstream white society and actively avoided other African-Americans but by the end of his life in 1953, he was fully
Jun 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Finished: 13.06.2019
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: C
#AudioBook 45 hrs 34 min
Winner Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2019

I agree with other readers
….this book is comprehensive and very detailed.
It is important to realize that there
…are different types of non-fiction:
literary non-fiction vs commercial non-fiction:
There’s a difference between the book as
cultural work of art and the book as entertainment
…in the same way that there’s a
difference between a classical sympho
I have never heard of Alain Locke. And yet I had heard of several of the writers he mentored, such as Langston Hughes. I had heard of the research area his efforts intiated, Black Studies. And yet, it seems odd, given his personal views, his becoming a pioneer of Black is Beautiful, is almost an anomaly. Locke was a horrible snob and really didn't like Negroes. And yet, the work of his life was to begin the idea that Blacks are valuable and beautiful and intellilgent. As I look at the difference ...more
Damon Evans
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have long been curious about Locke and now comes along the definitive biography of this man which I highly recommend.
Kwanzaa Coloring Book Games & Puzzles
The New Negro by Jeffrey C. Stewart is a cross between Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement (1954–1963) by Taylor Branch and Our
Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham. Stewart’s book is comparable to Taylor’s in its size and the extensive details provided on the subject of the publication, Alain Locke. The back story, where the author presents the family history of
Locke, could be a chapter in Graham’s work. Moreover, Locke’s con
Scott J Pearson
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Alain Locke is a name that even most educated African Americans don’t know. In the early twentieth century, he was the first African American Rhodes Scholar selected to study at Oxford. He pursued a career as a philosopher, received a PhD from Harvard, and taught at Howard University, the premier black institution in America. Most importantly, he helped spark the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and onward. He birthed the concept of the New Negro – that black people can reinvent themselves around ...more
Anthony Conty
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” by Jeffrey C. Stewart tells a tale that few casual readers of Black History would recognize: Harvard’s first African-American Rhodes Scholar navigates a world that will not accept him, some because he is black, others because he is 4’11”, and others because he is gay. Both author Stewart and subject Alain Locke have a background in philosophy that could intimidate the casual reader over the span of 900 pages.

Once he transitions to the sociology of race d
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I can’t believe I read the whole thing! “The New Negro” is an exhausting (but well written) day by day (almost) biography of Alain Locke, who was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. I had heard that Jeffrey Stewart wrote this as his PhD dissertation. I believe it for a number of reasons. The research and detail betrays a love for the subject, and 10,000 hours spent researching the book, mostly in the library. And I can see why. The diminutive Locke was quite a character. Black, dapper, gay, ...more
Jason Adams
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intimate biography of an intersectional thinker

Before I read this book, the name Alain Locke was another obscure label on photographs and essays of the Black experience in America. After reading Jeffrey Stewart’s biography, I have a new insight into the evolution of thought on racism and culture in the 1920s. As science definitively disproved the biological basis of racism, Alain Locke was on the forefront of defining racism as a means of control. Furthermore he located true beauty in the cultur
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it

I chose, The New Negro. I chose this because I was interested in learning about someone that I’ve never heard about. Albain Locke had many challenges throughout his life because Albain Locke was African American. Alain Locke was the first African American Rhodes Scholar.

I felt like Albain Locke’s life was very interesting. He did a lot throughout his lifetime which made it interesting to read about. Plus all the challenges that he had to face throughout life made it even more interesting because
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A masterful biography of one of the main architect's of the Harlem Renaissance, teaching me that he was so much more than the editor of 1925's The New Negro. It's undeniably a dense, academic biography: lots of detail, lots of footnotes, lots of heady content---from distillations of the philosophical arguments in Locke’s graduate theses, to psychological analysis of Locke’s behaviors and motivations, to detailed shout-outs and allusions to the many artists, authors, and cultural figures who cros ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m in awe of how much work and dedication it must have taken to write a biography of this magnitude - his love for Locke really shines through. It covered so many topics - elite education in the early 20th century (Oxford sounds like a nightmare), white patronage of black arts, black internationalism post WWII, philosophical theories of value and aesthetics - that will stick with me. It does get a little too detailed at times, including things like the minute politics of specific invitations fo ...more
Tony Carey
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Long, but interesting read on Locke's influence on the black artistic tradition, particularly his shepherding of the Harlem Renaissance. Stewart's treatment of how Locke negotiated his homosexuality while trying to maintain his visibility as a prominent black intellectual was quite good. I was particularly interested in Locke's pan-Africanist perspective, which I had not been aware of. While I found Locke's notion that culture could lead to the fulfillment of a racial democracy in America as nai ...more
Gayla Bassham
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this, but my goodness it was long. 873 pages is a lot to devote to someone you had never heard of before you opened the book! Still, Locke is fascinating. His personal life reminded me a bit of Lear's (I just finished Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense, so it was fresh in my mind) but his professional life was really interesting to me. ...more
L.M. Elm
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Stewart knows his stuff and it shows with this behemoth of a book. I couldn't read it quickly. It felt as if Stewart left no stone unturned in his quest to define what appears on the surface to be undefinable: Alain Locke. I especially enjoyed Locke's viewpoint into the New Negro philosophy of the 1920s; use art to change the minds of the status quo.
Matthew Sweeney
Dec 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Alain Locke was a highly intelligent man, but he was not an inspiring one. The Harlem Renaissance would have gone on without him. The book provided a look into an interesting period of time from an interesting POV, but the needless detail made it insufferable. I cannot believe this boring tome won literary awards. I want my time back.
Chad Germany
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book was 20% about the events of Alain Locke’s life. The other 80% was Jeffrey Stewart waxing academically about pretty much anything he wanted: poetry, philosophy, black history, art, etc. Locke was an interesting character, but there wasn’t enough of him in this book to make it a satisfying read.
Sue Davis
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Of course I didn’t read every word or even every chapter of this enormous biography but I can say that it is wonderful and enlightening. Helpful to me as I am as always interested in the variety of ideas and strategies the black leaders used in their endeavor to transcend the legacy of slavery.
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Jeffrey C. Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Jeffrey C. Stewart is a graduate of Yale University, where he received his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in American Studies. He was Director of Research at the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, and a senior advisor to the Reginald Lewis M

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