We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Inventing the New Negro

Narrative, Culture, and Ethnography

By Daphne Lamothe

Publication Year: 2011

It is no coincidence, Daphne Lamothe writes, that so many black writers and intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth century either trained formally as ethnographers or worked as amateur collectors of folklore and folk culture. In Inventing the New Negro Lamothe explores the process by which key figures such as Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Sterling Brown adapted ethnography and folklore in their narratives to create a cohesive, collective, and modern black identity.

Lamothe explores how these figures assumed the roles of self-reflective translators and explicators of African American and African diasporic cultures to Western, largely white audiences. Lamothe argues that New Negro writers ultimately shifted the presuppositions of both literary modernism and modernist anthropology by making their narratives as much about ways of understanding as they were about any quest for objective knowledge. In critiquing the ethnographic framework within which they worked, they confronted the classist, racist, and cultural biases of the dominant society and challenged their readers to imagine a different set of relations between the powerful and the oppressed.

Inventing the New Negro combines an intellectual history of one of the most important eras of African American letters with nuanced and original readings of seminal works of literature. It will be of interest not only to Harlem Renaissance scholars but to anyone who is interested in the intersections of culture, literature, folklore, and ethnography.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (661.0 KB)
pp. 1-3

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.8 KB)
p. 4-4

Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (25.6 KB)
p. 5-5

Table of Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF (27.7 KB)
pp. 6-7

read more

1: Ethnography and the New Negro Imagination

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 1-20

In 1925, after having won second prize in an Opportunity magazine contest for her short story "Drenched in Light;' the intrepid Zora Neale Hurston made her way from Eatonville, Florida, to the crowded streets of New York City in search, like so many other Southern migrants, of education ...

read more

2: Men of Science in the Post-Slavery Era

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 21-43

In choosing to appropriate classical anthropology's cultural pluralist, antiracist agenda, New Negro intellectuals intervened on a long history of antiBlack and anti-African rhetoric and practices that extended back before the nineteenth century, when the notion of ...

read more

3: Raising the Veil: Racial Divides and Ethnographic Crossings in the Souls of Black Folk

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 44-68

Like Franz Boas, W. E. B. Du Bois profoundly helped shape modern American thought on race and culture. As I have already mentioned, DuBois's 1897 speech "The Conservation of the Races" was a landmark moment in ...

read more

4: Striking Out into the Interior: Travel, Imperialism, and Ethnographic Perspectives in the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 69-90

Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois shifted the terms used to discuss race by foregrounding the cultural and historical conditions that determined racial formations. Inspired by their theoretical interventions, in ...

read more

5: Living Culture in Sterling Brown's Southern Road

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 91-114

James Weldon Johnson's fiction implicitly challenged Race Men and Women to contend with class, gender, and regional differences within the race, despite the hegemonic tendency to view Black people monolithically.1 Sterling Brown's body of poetry introduces ...

read more

6: Woman Dancing Culture: Katherine Dunham's Dance/Anthropology

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 115-140

Like Sterling Brown, Katherine Dunham's youth and association with environs other than New York make her an unlikely subject to include in a study of a movement typically associated with Harlem in the twenties and thirties. While she was a young student at the University of Chicago ...

read more

7: Narrative Dissonance: Conflict and Contradiction in Hurston's Caribbean Ethnography

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 141-159

Zora Neale Hurston's southern roots and anthropological traing make her a key figure in this study. She and Katherine Dunham knew of each other and had even met when Hurston attended a party thrown by Dunham in Chicago, but personal differences and regional separation kept them largely ...

read more

8: Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Vodou Intertext

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 160-178

After Zora Neale Hurston spent time immersed in Haitian society and Vodou culture, she recognized that African Americans and Haitians shared similar conflicts and concerns, but the ethnographic format denied her the opportunity to explore these commonalities. In fact, she appeared to ...

read more

9: Afterword

pdf iconDownload PDF (135.9 KB)
pp. 179-181

By focusing on five authors who portray different sites that represented to them African American culture, I have elucidated the ways that the ethnographic imagination informs New Negro literature, including the introduction of a set of figurative devices derived from ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 183-217


pdf iconDownload PDF (668.3 KB)
pp. 219-230

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (124.2 KB)
pp. 231-232

I could not have written this book without the support of my family, friends, and colleagues. This project has been a long time coming, and I would not have been able to realize my ideas without the guidance and inspiration of many ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204049
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240931

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011