Kitchenette correlatives: African American neo-modernism the popular front, and the emergence of a black literary avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s
Like many of their white peers, post-World War II African American writers and critics strongly engaged the legacy of early twentieth century modernism. They were interested in the utility of various strains of "high modernism" for the figuration of black subjectivity and experience as well as a tool for aggressively claiming African American artistic citizenship. At the same time, black writers were acutely aware of the racism of many of the leading U.S. modernists and their champions, such as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Alan Tate, interrogating this racism even as they drew on their work. Also, while the neomodernist revival in the United States generally can be seen as an assault on the aesthetics and cultural institutions of the Popular Front as the Cold War intensified, black neomodernist writers, many of whom had been active on the Left, often maintained formal and thematic ties to Popular Front art in ways that distinguished them from most of their white counterparts. African American engagement with modernism and the modernist revival championed by the New Critics and the New York Intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s developed essentially along two tracks. One track featured the rise of a black neo-modernism obviously influenced by the general Cold War neo-modernist revival, but also with a long foreground in African American literature and art. The other promoted a related, though in many respects opposed growth of a more populist African American literary avant gardism, positing African American high art both as on the cutting edge of world artistic expression and inextricably linked to African American experience and expressive culture, particularly the new jazz of bebop. Both the neo-modernist and more populist avant-garde strains of African American literature, though having a long foreground, were in many respects rooted in black Left culture and politics of the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s.
James E. Smethurst. "Kitchenette correlatives: African American neo-modernism the popular front, and the emergence of a black literary avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s" Foreign Literature Studies 29.4 (2007).
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