Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance: African American Women Writers 1900-1922

Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance (1900-1922)

Proposal: a site collecting poetry, drama, and fiction by African American women between 1900 and 1922.

As is well-known, the peak years of the Harlem Renaissance are 1922-1930, but much of the writing from that period remains in copyright, and not accessible for digital archives without acquiring permissions. Writing from this earlier period is still quite important -- many of the themes one finds in the writing of famous figures like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston are being developed by a diverse group of writers in several different sites. Importantly, most of the writers featured on this archive were not actually geographically located in Harlem. Writers like Clara Ann Thompson and Carrie Williams Clifford were from Ohio (Cincinnati and Cleveland, respectively); Georgia Douglas Johnson lived in Washington, DC. 

One of the goals of this site is simply to make some of that material accessible in a readable and teachable format, with scholarly annotations and editorial commentary to give readers a guide. 

But we are also interested in patterns and relationships between and among the writers features here, as well as their relationships to established figures such as Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois, and William Stanley Braithwaite. To explore those relationships we will be working with semantic tags -- labeling poems and other works as we digitize them, which will make it possible to visualize them using Scalar's visualization tools. We will also be exploring social networks between and among these writers (after Clifford left Ohio, for instance, she moved to Washington DC, where she came to know figures such as Mary Church Terrell, Alain Locke, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and W.E.B. Du Bois). Washington DC (Alain Locke taught at Howard University) and Ohio seem to be particularly important sites for the development of this early 20th century African American writing. 

Another theme we are interested in is charting the emergence of race-consciousness in this body of work. Writers like Carrie  Williams Clifford demonstrate a high degree of politicization from an early point, while Georgia Douglas Johnson's early poetry (The Heart of a Woman) downplays and masks racial themes in favor of a more abstract and apolitical romanticism (perhaps under the influence of William Stanley Braithwaite, a writer she cited explicilty). In her Introduction to her 1997 volume of Johnson's works (part of the excellent "African-American Women Writers 1910-1940" series edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), Claudia Tate reflects on the apolitical nature of Johnson's early poetry as a reflection of her generation: 

From the perspective of present-day readers, Johnson is not usually regarded as a 'New Negro' but rather as a member of what Robert Bone has labeled 'the rear guard,' For Bone and us as well, the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance is generally characterized by the works of the younger generation of black writers, 'the young Turks,' who were mostly male--principally Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman. This is not surprising inasmuch as they were the most productive members of this younger generation who would overshadow the writers of Johnson's generation. The young Turks were also destined to become the dominant canonical figures, because their black nationalist values were resurgent during the 1960s and early 1970s, when scholars of African-American culture rewrote the literary history of the New Negro Renaissance (Tate, xxi).

Here Tate's comments about the link between gender, thematics, and canonicity seem especially salient as a reason to conduct this research into a group of writers who were written out of the male-dominated canon that began to materialize in the late 1960s. 


Some texts to be featured on this site might include the following: 

Georgia Douglas Johnson,
Carrie Williams Clifford
Pauline SmithExceeding Riches and Other Verse (1922). 

Clara Ann ThompsonSongs from the Wayside (1908)

Angelina GrimkeRachel

Mazie Earhart Clark, Life's Pathway: Little Lyrics of Love, Loyalty and Devotion (1917). 

Carrie Law Morgan Figgs
Jessie Redmon Fauset 

Poems Short storiesEssays

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This page references:

  1. Carrie Williams Clifford, Portrait from "Race Rhymes" (1911)
  2. Clara Ann Thompson, Photograph from "Songs from the Wayside"
  3. Jessie Redmon Fauset Photograph