When Harlem Was in Vogue

When Harlem Was in Vogue

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Description

Tremendous optimism filled the streets of Harlem during the decade and a half following World War I. Langston Hughes, Eubie Blake, Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Robeson, and countless others began their careers; Afro-America made its first appearance on Broadway; musicians found new audiences in the chic who sought out the exotic in Harlem's whites-only nightclubs; riotous rent parties kept economic realities at bay; and A'Lelia Walker and Carl Van Vechten outdid each other with glittering "integrated" soirees. When Harlem Was in Vogue recaptures the excitement of those times, displaying the intoxicating hope that black Americans could create important art and compel the nation to recognize their equality. In this critically-acclaimed study of race assimilation, David Levering Lewis focuses on the creation and manipulation of an arts and belles-lettres culture by a tiny Afro-American elite, striving to enhance "race relations" in America, and ultimately, the upward mobility of the Afro-American masses. He demonstrates how black intellectuals developed a systematic program to bring artists to Harlem, conducting nation-wide searches for black talent and urging WASP and Jewish philanthropists (termed "Negrotarians" by Zora Neale Hurston) to help support writers. This extensively-researched, fascinating volume reveals the major significance of the Renaissance as a movement which sprang up in Harlem but lent its mood to the entire era, and as a culturally-vital period whose after-effects continue to add immeasurably to the richness and character of American life."show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 426 pages
  • 137.16 x 203.2 x 25.4mm | 362.87g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 32 pp halftones
  • 0195059697
  • 9780195059694

Review quote

"A masterly book, it is the most unusual and authoritative work on the art and politics of the Harlem renaissance era. This volume is in the Lewis sytle: elegant prose based upon solid and voluminous research."--Kenneth R. Janken, University of North Carolina"This book is a thoroughly documented text that is an excellent reference text for students studying any of the literary, social, economic, political or intellectual aspects of the Harlem Renaissance period in Black culture."--Dr. Pearlie Peters, Rider College"It was an extremely well-written, informative, and exciting book. I highly recommend its use for courses on the Harlem Renaissance, or upon Afro-American history in general."--Richard Berkley, New York Univ."A major study...one that thoroughly interweaves the philosophies and fads, the people and movements that combined to give a small segment of Afro-America a brief place in the sun."--Jim Haskins, The New York Times Book Review"A brilliant work....As an interpretation of one of America's major eras, it should be indispensable for the student of America's 1920s and exciting for any reader."--Darwin T. Turner, The Washington Post Book World"[Lewis'] courageously brilliant, often witty, and beautifully clear book will become definitive for at least fifty years."--Choice"From the social forums to the street-corner radicals, the the jazz clubs, and the white visitors, Lewis leaves a stirring impression....A gem of a book."--Library Journal"In this thorough, penetrating study, [Lewis] examines not only the glittery surface of 'Afro-America's Paris'--the parties and cabarets that sent whites uptown in search of 'the exotic and forbidden'--but also the complex mix of people and circumstances that fostered extraordinary black achievements in writing, music, and art."--Publishers Weekly"Lewis's book brings [Harlem's] past alive again."--The Smithsonian"A brilliant socio-historical study that recaptures the verve and magic of those fascinating years."--Arthur P. Davis, Howard Universityshow more

Review Text

Lewis (Prisoners of Honor, King) brings strong socio-political perspectives to his study of the Harlem Renaissance (ca. 1924-1933) - in a well-researched, sturdily written account which is, however, uncertainly organized and somewhat lacking in flavor. Starting off with the disappointing state of black rights after WW I - their patriotic service and demands for better treatment seemed to bring only more lynchings - Lewis presents the black elite's new championing of culture as an inevitable alternative to the perils of militancy: "the sole battle plan affording both high visibility and low vulnerability. . . . Each book, play, poem, or canvas by an Afro-American would become a weapon against the old racial stereotypes." Thus, with leadership from such exquisitely educated blacks as W. E. B. Du Bois ("Afro-America's greatest mind and most eloquent pen"), Charles Johnson of the Urban League's Opportunity magazine, and Howard U. prof Alain Locke ("the Proust of Lenox Avenue"), the emphasis was on class and polish: "too much street-geist and folklore. . . were not welcome." And this esthetic was at first served well, if sometimes reluctantly, by the available talent: Jamaican Claude McKay, light-skinned Adonis Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and others. Help came from white publishers and philanthropists (Jews especially); the tone was set by black socialites like A'Lelia Walker (the "dekink heiress"); Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington (at the Savoy and the Cotton Club) brought in droves of white enthusiasts. But this couldn't last, of course: provoked by Carl Van Vechten's Nigger Heaven, black artists turned to plebeian, "folk-centered" material; feuds broke out; the Depression ravaged Harlem; communism became more attractive; and it became clear that the "Niggerati" had "deceived themselves into thinking that [US] race relations. . . were amenable to the assimilationist patterns of a Latin country." A workable enough premise - but Lewis' narrative, largely dependent on a series of bio-profiles, never quite focuses. And the emphasis on fiction short-changes the period's music and art. Still: this is informative, literate social history, occasionally - if erratically - spiced with anecdote and personality. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About David Levering Lewis

About the Author David Levering Lewis is Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick. He is the author of several books, including King: A Biography, The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa, and a forthcoming volume, The Life and Times of W.E.B. Du Bois.show more

Rating details

245 ratings
3.94 out of 5 stars
5 31% (75)
4 40% (98)
3 24% (59)
2 4% (10)
1 1% (3)
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