Literature of the Harlem Renaissance Era

What led to the literary developments during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance?

The Harlem Renaissance is generally regarded as the first literary movement in African-American literature. Although its title suggests that the movement occurred in the Harlem section of New York City, it existed as well in other large urban areas of the United States where many African Americans from the South had relocated. Alain Leroy Locke led and shaped the movement during which Upper Manhattan became a hotbed of creativity in post-World War I America. It also marked the beginning of when white Americans (principally intellectuals and artists) gave serious attention to the culture of African Americans. This literary and cultural movement resulted from black America’s need to celebrate its culture and racial identity. No longer were they preoccupied with the ills that slavery caused, and they sought new ways to define themselves, their ancestors, their talents, and their culture.

Literature only partially characterized the full developments of the renaissance period. Jazz and blues music also flourished during the prosperous times of the postwar era. During the 1920s and 1930s Louis Armstrong, “Jelly Roll” Morton, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, and Josephine Baker rose to prominence as well. Their contributions to music performance are still felt by artists and audiences today.


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