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BLACK WOMEN WRITERS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE Crystal J. Lucky My commitment to the study of African American women writers of the Harlem Renaissance began more than ten yearsago when I was formally introduced to the period in a graduate seminar. The course readings were taken, in part, from what has become the seminal text ofthe period, Alain Lockes The New Negro. In 1925, Locke included the contributions of eight women fiction writers and essayiststo support his New Negro polemic; the collection,however, contained a total of thirty-six contributors.1 I was troubled that Locke chose to include so few women, which led me to question whether there were other New Negro women publishing in other venues, and if so, why so few of these black women's works are currently taught in universityliterature courses or offered to the general reading public.2 Since then, much of the significant work published on the Harlem Renaissance has refocused critical attention on the black women artists whose works have previously been excluded from the study of the period. From Daphne Duval Harrisons study of black women blues singers to Maureen Honeys anthology of black women poets to Cheryl Wall s study of Harlem Renaissance women writers, contemporary scholars have begun to consider how differently the period looks if the artistic contributions of black women are shifted from the margins to the center of a revisionistexamination.* The reclaiming of these womens works provides interested scholars and educators a virtually untapped arsenal of poetry and short fiction; yet more work remains to be done. The exclusion of women from mainstream vehicles relegated their works to even more marginalized journals and poorly distributed publications.Accordingly, their works have not been consistently included in later considerations of the period or courses in African American and Euro-American literature. Thus most students of literature remain unexposed to the full range of black womens writings, perpetuating the further truncation of an African American literary ancestry. The focus of this essay is two-tiered. Primarily, I wish to consider the peda- 92 : CRYSTAL J. LUCKY gogical changes such a reclamation affords African American literary study, thereby joining my voice with those who through their recovery work have called for a reevaluation of the Harlem Renaissance with respect to gender in terms of who was involved in it, when, and where the movement occurred.4 Excellent scholarship now exists noting how periodization and geography shift when black women writers are considered.5 And whereas the beginning and ending dates for the period have heretofore been confined to the 19208, scholars have lately become liberal enough in their conceptualization to include the 19305, often continuing into the ig^s.6 Yetthe work of incorporating the newly discovered womens texts into the structure of the American classroom remains to be tackled adequately given the abbreviated list of black women regularly included on Harlem Renaissance course syllabi. To that end, as the second focus of this essay, I wish to present one model for teaching the lives and works of these lesser-known women writers by offering representative unrecognized writers alongside familiar black women writersof the period. The juxtapositionof traditional Harlem Renaissance artists and texts with those less recognized sheds new light on the period. Likewise, it resists privileginga canon of black male and female artists whose works are repeatedly admitted to the exclusion of many others. It also provides a context within which to ask and to begin to answer the question, Where have all the women gone? At first glance, one might assume that only a small number of women were publishing their work in Harlem and other major metropolises; however, constant resurfacing of black womens writing of that period indicates otherwise. Initially, one might point to the obvious problem of plain sexism. It is interesting, for example , to observe how someone like Charles S. Johnson, editor of Opportunity magazine, noted his contributors. During the early 19205, Johnson provided brief, individual personal and professional sketches for each of his male contributors toward the end of each issue, but he tended to group all the women writers together with a "thanks." Or taken a step further, the answer might emanate from the cultural context out of which the Renaissance materialized. The close group of male and female writers, in particular, associated with the major intellectual figures of the time created an intimate artistic inner circle. Women (and men) writing and attempting to publish outside of that clique would certainly have had...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820343532
Related ISBN
9780820343532
MARC Record
OCLC
794306972
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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