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Hearing the Hurt

Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Politics of the New Negro Movement

Eric King Watts

Publication Year: 2012

Hearing the Hurt is an examination of how the New Negro movement, also known as the Harlem Renaissance, provoked and sustained public discourse and deliberation about black culture and identity in the early twentieth century.
Borrowing its title from a W. E. B. Du Bois essay, Hearing the Hurt explores the nature of rhetorical invention, performance, and mutation by focusing on the multifaceted issues brought forth in the New Negro movement, which Watts treats as a rhetorical struggle over what it means to be properly black and at the same time properly American.
Who determines the meaning of blackness? How should African Americans fit in with American public culture? In what way should black communities and families be structured? The New Negro movement animated dynamic tension among diverse characterizations of African American civil rights, intellectual life, and well-being, and thus it provides a fascinating and complex stage on which to study how ideologies clash with each other to become accepted universally.
Watts, conceptualizing the artistic culture of the time as directly affected by the New Negro public discourse, maps this rhetorical struggle onto the realm of aesthetics and discusses some key incarnations of New Negro rhetoric in select speeches, essays, and novels.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

The very idea of writing acknowledgments is both exhilarating and daunting. This sort of work arises out of spaces and times populated by folks who will be remembered here and by persons who will be sadly overlooked. I begin, therefore...

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pp. 1-8

Near the end of the final chapter of Black Reconstruction in America, his groundbreaking study of important sociological and cultural indices related to African American development following the American Civil War, W. E. B. Du Bois asked a question...

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1. “Hearing the Hurt”

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pp. 9-24

In a lost essay entitled “The New Negro,” submitted to Century magazine in 1887, W. E. B. Du Bois articulated the cultural mission that he believed was charged to him and his intellectual comrades at Fisk University— a time he later referred to as the...

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2. “Of Beauty and Death”: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Darkwater

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pp. 25-49

When W. E. B. Du Bois returned to New York harbor in February 1919, after witnessing firsthand in Europe the world trying to destroy itself, he was haunted by the intuition that the First World War had somehow followed him back across the Atlantic...

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3. “The Last and Best Gift of Africa”: Du Bois, Dewey, and a Black Public

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pp. 50-72

W. E. B. Du Bois may have been seated comfortably in his high-back leather chair in the offices of the Crisis as he perused the morning mail in August 1925, a day that was sure to be a muggy one in New York City; but he almost certainly felt like the captain...

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4. “Negro Youth Speaks”: Alain Locke and The New Negro

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pp. 73-95

Several years before her emergence as a prolific and eccentric writer, Zora Neale Hurston counted herself as one of the fortunate recipients of Alain Locke’s counsel as an up-and- coming New Negro. Locke’s advice and guidance began when...

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5. “A Lampblacked Anglo-Saxon”: George Schuyler and Langston Hughes in the Nation

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pp. 96-116

When Freda Kirchwey, the managing editor of the Nation, sorted through her mail on a crisp and clear October morning in 1925, she was both amused and annoyed by a submission from a rising journalistic star working for the Pittsburgh Courier...

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6. “All Art Is Propaganda”: The Politics of a New Negro Aesthetics

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pp. 117-139

In his autobiography The Big Sea, Langston Hughes characterized the Harlem of the 1920s as a time and a place where “the Negro was in vogue.”1 This observation should be understood not simply as black life and culture being in fashion or in style...

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7. “Paul’s Committed Suicide”: A Utopist Tragedy in Wallace Thurman’s Infants of the Spring

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pp. 140-165

In a letter dated October 8, 1928, Alain LeRoy Locke advised Scholley Pace Alexander, business manager of the soon-to- be- published literary magazine, Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life, about the new venture’s proper place in the New Negro movement and warned...

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8. “You Mean You Don’t Want Me, ’Rene?”: Anxiety, Desire, and Madness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

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pp. 166-189

By spring of 1929, Alfred Knopf Publishing required little encouragement to distribute new literary works produced by younger members of the New Negro movement. Having already published Langston Hughes’s first two collections of poems...

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pp. 190-197

The New Negro movement was pronounced dead by 1935. This obituary in part reflected the economic catastrophe that impelled some formerly wealthy persons to fling themselves out of office windows. The death notice was true in the sense that the declaration...


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pp. 199-231


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pp. 233-243


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pp. 245-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386160
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317669

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 796383676
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hearing the Hurt

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Harlem Renaissance.
  • African Americans -- Race identity -- History -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
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