Strayer University HUM 112
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that began shortly after World War I, during a time where many African Americans were seeking racial justice and equality. As at this time there was a new concept of the "Negro” that began to arise against common stereotypes that whites perceived to be a part of African American culture. Although this perception shift of the new "Negro" concept wasn’t just concentrated in one part of the country, Harlem, New York served as an epicenter of cultural change that allowed the expression of the new concept through media such as literature, music, theatrics and visual art. Literature, and more specifically poetry was one of the key mediums that eloquently displayed the conplexities of the African American experience during that time. Two important poets from this time are Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Both created poems that helped their audience be able to relate to the lives of African Americans while denouncing the stereotypes and racism that prevailed during this period. Both writers helped to influence future generations of writers.
Influencial Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes was one of the most well-known African American poets during the Harlem Renaissance period. Although born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri; Hughes was raised primarily by his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas after his parents divorced. It was actually Hughes' grandmother that became a one of the main influences in him becoming a poet, which we began writing soon after high school. The result of this was his first poetic book The Weary Blues, (Knopf, 1926). Followed by Hughes' first novel which was also published by Knopf Not Without Laughter, (Knopf, 1930) and won the Harmon gold medal for literature. Over the spand of his career Hughes eventually composed an impressive body of work. to include many novels, short stories, and plays along with his poetry. One major role he is known for during the Harlem Renaissance is that he managed to incorporate and influence jazz, another radical medium of expression during the period, in his writings.
In many of Hughes’ writings, he described the life of African Americans through the lens of his early experiences. He intended for his audience to be able to identify with the culture, music, and language of African Americans. One poem that highlights this view is Let America Be America Again. This poem highlights the “double-consciousness” of African Americans. According to Merriam-Webster, double consciousness is the presence of two apparently unconnected streams of consciousness in an individual. The term double-consciousness was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois and is described in the following quote.
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
What Du Bois is describing is a notion that African Americans have a dual identity in America. These dual identities are referred to as “The Negro” and “The American” in the previous quote. African Americans wanted to be identified as Americans as part of their identity but did not want to fully assimilate into “white culture”. Poetry and other forms of art during the Harlem Renaissance attempted to display this duality describing the average life of African Americans whilst denouncing the racism that was present. Poetry also attempted to show outsiders how African Americans wanted express the social conflict of the dual identity and expose the inequality that they face. In Langston Hughes’ poem Let America Be America Again, double-consciousness is expressed by giving the reader the idea of what America was envisioned to be and…