Harlem Renaissancealso called New Negro Movement,
period of outstanding literary vigour and creativity that took place in the 1920s, changing the character of literature created by black Americans, from quaint dialect works and conventional imitations of white writers to sophisticated explorations of black life and culture that revealed and stimulated a new confidence and racial pride. The movement centred in the vast black ghetto of Harlem, in New York City, where aspiring black artists, writers, and musicians gathered, sharing their experiences and providing mutual encouragement. One of the leading figures of the period was James Weldon Johnson, author of the pioneering novel Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), and perhaps best known for God's Trombones (1927), a collection of seven sermons in free verse, expressing the characteristic style and themes of the black preacher in pure and eloquent English. Johnson also acted as mentor to many of the young black writers who formed the core of the Harlem group. Claude McKay, an immigrant from Jamaica, produced an impressive volume of verse, Harlem Shadows (1922), and a best-selling novel, Home to Harlem (1928), about a young Negro's return from World War I. Countee Cullen was another important black poet. Cullen helped bring more Harlem poets to public notice by editing Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets in 1927. Langston Hughes published his first collection of verse, The Weary Blues, in 1926, and his novel Not Without Laughter appeared in 1930. Wallace Thurman and William Jourden Rapp collaborated on a popular play, Harlem, in 1929. Thurman, one of the most individualistic talents of the period, also wrote a satirical novel, The Blacker the Berry (1929), that ridiculed some elements of the New Negro movement. The Harlem Renaissance was accelerated by philanthropic grants and scholarships and was supported by white writers such as Carl Van Vechten, author of Nigger Heaven (1926).
The Great Depression caused the Harlem group of writers to scatter; many were forced to leave New York or to take other jobs to tide them over the hard times.
Copyright © 1994-2005 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.