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Circles of the Twentieth Century #1

The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930

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It was W.E.B. DuBois who paved the way with his essays and his magazine The Crisis, but the Harlem Renaissance was mostly a literary and intellectual movement whose best known figures include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer.  Their work ranged from sonnets to modernist verse to jazz aesthetics and folklore, and their mission was race propaganda and pure art.  Adding to their visibility were famous jazz musicians, producers of all-black revues, and bootleggers.

Now available in paperback, this richly-illustrated book contains more than 70 black-and-white photographs and drawings.  Steven Watson clearly traces the rise and flowering of this movement, evoking its main figures as well as setting the scene--describing Harlem from the Cotton Club to its literary salons, from its white patrons like Carl van Vechten to its most famous entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong among many others.  He depicts the social life of working-class speakeasies, rent parties, gay and lesbian nightlife, as well as the celebrated parties at the twin limestone houses owned by hostess A'Lelia Walker.  This is an important history of one of America's most influential cultural phenomenons.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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Steven Watson

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews
Profile Image for Dankwa Brooks.
44 reviews
March 4, 2020
I knew about the HARLEM RENAISSANCE, but I fell in love with the time period when I studied it in Humanities at MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY. This book is an excellent further exploration of that time period. The book not only highlights the key figures, but the entire environment in which this historically cultural time took place.

Black folk didn’t have a lot of money, didn’t have a lot of anything, but what we had was SOUL. In the book you can see that ever since our presence on this continent, black folk had to do more with less and DID, even to the admiration and adoration of white folk. This book expertly details a lot of that. It also details the patrons of the Renaissance and how that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
The book touches on all aspects of the renaissance, including the environment/community like the section on the famous “Harlem Rent Parties”, the night life, the famous clubs like THE COTTON CLUB and THE SAVOY BALLROOM and the music artists/performers like JOSEPHINE BAKER, EARL “SNAKEHIPS” TUCKER, BESSIE SMITH, BILL “BOJANGLES” ROBINSON and ETHEL WATERS. The book focused most on the intellectuals, writers and journalists of the renaissance.

The book also highlighted the patrons of the renaissance like the “Harlem Hostess” A’LELIA WALKER, but also white patrons like CHARLOTTE MASON and CARL VAN VECHTEN.

As a passage in the book stated, “CONTROLLING THE BLACK IMAGE. One consequence of the rising white interest in African-American literature was the black intelligentsia's drive to control its own image. Renaissance writers, intellectuals, and artists were charged with articulating a racial identity that not only plumbed indigenous black experience but simultaneously assumed a positive face for white society.“ This is ALWAYS the struggle.

The book was a WEALTH of information on this time period. This was SUCH a prodigious time for black artists and being a black artist, the Harlem Renaissance has always made me PROUD.

Because I’m so in love with the time period, I took copious notes via GoodReads on the book and shared them on the site at https://www.goodreads.com/user_status...
14 reviews
March 26, 2023
This book details a decade of a flourishing black culture in Harlem, the history behind it, how it unfolded and its legacy in black America. Each sentence is brimming with historical tid-bits but is somehow digestible - it feels like you’re let in on a whole new world you never knew about. The book uses pictures and drawings wisely, it works with Watson’s writing to create a vivid atmosphere. I really liked the visual aspect of the book, I don’t see it in nonfiction very often and it really broke up these dense walls of text. Solid book, read to learn more about black culture in America and look at some amazing photography.

Profile Image for James .
280 reviews
September 6, 2021
Interesting survey of the Harlem Renaissance. I've long struggled to wrap my head around exactly what it "was" and this book helped me to clarify my thinking on this all important movement.
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