Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Part II

Here is a continuation of the Writers of the Harlem Renaissance post from Tuesday:
jesse-redmon-fauset Jessie Redmon Fauset
Though she is not very well-known today, Fauset was, along with Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most prolific African America writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Two of her four novels, There is Confusion and Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral, deal with the issue of light-skinned Blacks “passing” as whites. The Chinaberry Tree features two heroines struggling with illegitimacy and personal identity in a middle class Black community. Comedy, American Style portrays a female protagonist who wishes to be white, and her husband and son who are proud of their African American heritage. Often accused of having middle class idealized values, Fauset is nevertheless one of the main Black writers of her time and her work is well worth exploring.

Nella Larsen
Imagine an African American librarian in New York in the 1920s: quiet, intelligent and insightful. These are the qualities Larsen brings to her fiction and, even though Larsen only wrote only two novels and a few short stories, her message about race still applies to us today.  Her first novel, Quicksand, didn’t win the critical acclaim of her second, Passing, but is valuable as an autobiographical work about a biracial woman seeking identity and acceptance. In Passing, a book still admired and widely read today, the characters are light-skinned enough to pass for white, but it’s clear from the consequences that race still dictates their lives

Claude McKay
Originally from Jamaica, McKay was shocked by the racism he encountered in America, especially in the South. His bestseller, Home to Harlem, won the Harmon Gold Award for literature for its frank, detailed view of street life in Harlem. Likewise, his Banjo and Banana Bottom, portray realistic views of African American people dealing with everyday issues and trying to find their own identity. This theme of Black self-determination comes out strongly in the author’s works. McKay’s later novels, A Long Way from Home and Harlem: Negro Metropolis, are more autobiographical.

infants-of-the-springWallace Thurman
Thurman takes a slightly different tack on issues of race by showing the true nature of African American culture, both the good and the bad, rather than taking a more stylized slant urging Blacks to integrate into white society, as did many other authors of the time.  His best-known novel, The Blacker the Berry, for instance, portrays discrimination on the basis of shades of color among African Americans. Infants of the Spring satirizes social issues and several well-known authors of the time, in addition to featuring bi-sexual characters — all of which were very unusual in the 1920s and 30s. We can appreciate the criticism he came under, and enjoy his work even now, when we may not be aware of the people being satirized.

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