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Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance

Katharine Capshaw Smith

Publication Year: 2004

The Harlem Renaissance, the period associated with the flowering of the arts in Harlem, inaugurated a tradition of African American children's literature, for the movement's central writers made youth both their subject and audience. W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Langston Hughes, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and other Harlem Renaissance figures took an impassioned interest in the literary models offered to children, believing that the "New Negro" would ultimately arise from black youth. As a result, African American children's literature became a crucial medium through which a disparate community forged bonds of cultural, economic, and aesthetic solidarity. Kate Capshaw Smith explores the period's vigorous exchange about the nature and identity of black childhood and uncovers the networks of African American philosophers, community activists, schoolteachers, and literary artists who worked together to transmit black history and culture to the next generation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Blacks in the Diaspora

Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance

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Front Matter

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix-xi

I am deeply indebted to Margaret R. Higonnet and Veronica Makowsky for their unflagging support of this project at every stage of composition. I am grateful to the people who offered me firsthand knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance and its children’s literature. Ellen Tarry graciously talked with me several times about her picture books and ...

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pp. xiii-xxvi

A wartime cover of Crisis magazine (August 1916) presents an elegant visual statement of the African American child’s national significance. Embraced by the flag, the image recorded in the mirror and on the page, the baby basks in his or her role as an icon of an unmistakably black American identity. By interacting with W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous ...

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The Emblematic Black Child: Du Bois’s Crisis Publications

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pp. 1-54

At the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance, intellectual giant W.E.B. Du Bois reinvented conceptions of black childhood and instituted the genre of black children’s literature. A study of the era’s treatment of childhood necessarily begins with Du Bois, since his enormously influential Crisis editorials, annual Crisis Children’s Number (1912–1934), ...

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Creating the Past, Present, and Future: New Negro Children’s Drama

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pp. 53-106

Like the Crisis writers, African American dramatists believed that the “New Negro” would ultimately arise from the youngest Negroes and that building black nationhood and a new cultural identity depended on the education of the younger generation. Du Bois’s construction of black childhood took root in the work of dramatists of the 1920s ...

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The Legacy of the South: Revisiting the Plantation Tradition

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pp. 107-162

A cross written genre, children’s drama attempted to unite communities divided by variations in education, economics, and regional and cultural alliances. Although plays include literary constructions of the black South—such as spirituals, work songs, dialect poetry, laboring female characters—rarely do texts confront the horrific details of enslavement ...

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The Peacemakers: Carter G. Woodson’s Circle

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pp. 163-228

Carter G. Woodson’s unprecedented attention to black history was one of the foremost expressions of cultural nationalism during and after the Harlem Renaissance. Founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915), the Journal of Negro History (1916), the Associated Publishers (1921), Negro History Week (1926), and ...

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The Aesthetics of Black Children’s Literature: Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes

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pp. 229-272

Overall, the children’s writers emerging from the Harlem Renaissance share generic approaches and ideological concerns. The mission of cultural nationalism took shape through networks of schoolteachers, community activists, poets, and philosophers, all of whom depended, to some degree, on the presence of black adults as readers or auditors of ...

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pp. 273-276

The study of early African American children’s literature requires revision of the conceptual categories that structure critical understanding of children’s literature and of African American literary history. First, Harlem Renaissance texts challenge conventional assumptions about the nature and purposes of children’s literature by unsettling notions ...


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pp. 277-306


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pp. 307-326


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pp. 327-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110923
E-ISBN-10: 0253110920
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253344434

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 23 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Blacks in the Diaspora