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Mapping the Terrain of BlackWriting
College Literature (2015)
  • A Yęmisi Jimoh,, PhD
The literary movement that so many refer to as the Harlem Renaissance remains contested terrain, and the need to periodize and name the movement is ongoing. As the literary production of the New Negro era came to a close, participants in the literary movement such as Zora Neale Hurston, Sterling Brown, Wallace Thurman, James Weldon Johnson, Dorothy West, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, W. E.B. Du Bois, Charles S. Johnson and others commented on its value, beginnings, and its end. Subsequent literary and historical scholars as well as the New Negro Movement participants have found very little consensus on key questions of periodization. To outline the terrain of the New Negro Movement in literature, one must examine what the writers produced and determine when they began to present the varied perspectives, ideas, and world of the New Negro in literature, even while recognizing that close examination of the literature reveals differences, tensions, and anxieties among them.  

This work of periodization seeks to mark an important cultural space, typically referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, by identifying a broad range of its distinguishing characteristics and by bracketing its duration, with clear recognition that the temporal frame and characteristics may be re-positioned yet again. The project here is not to determine the perceived failure or success of the literary movement or the collective quality of the literary production, a project that would involve determining by whose standards of success, failure, or quality such judgments would be made. The point of this paper also is not to posit that standards are not useful; indeed, in the appropriate context, delineating standards is crucial. This study of the New Negro era expands its boundaries, re-situates the stakes marking its existence, or opens a space for engaging the literary movement by mapping it in ways that scholars too often have de-emphasized or have not explored. “Mapping the Terrain of Black Writing during the Early New Negro Era” also presents a basis for a revised temporal frame for the New Negro Movement in literature as well as a revision of the name Harlem Renaissance when referring to the literature of the era.  
  • Harlem Renaissance,
  • New Negro,
  • Zora Neale Hurston,
  • Literary Movements,
  • Alain Locke,
  • Claude McKay,
  • Helene Johnson,
  • Dorothy West,
  • Langston Hughes,
  • W. E. B. Du Bois,
  • African Diaspora
Publication Date
Summer 2015
Citation Information
A Yęmisi Jimoh. "Mapping the Terrain of BlackWriting" College Literature Vol. 42 Iss. 3 (2015) p. 488 - 524
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