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

Introduction -- About this Site

In This Collection...
Georgia Douglas Johnson, "Bronze" (1922)
Carrie Williams Clifford, "Race Rhymes" (1911)
Carrie Williams Clifford, The Widening Light (1922)
Clara Ann Thompson, Songs From the Wayside (1908)
Georgia Douglas Johnson, "The Heart of a Woman" (1918)

This site aims to collect poetry, drama, and fiction by African American women between 1900 and 1922.

I envision the project as aligning with what Kim Gallon has referred to as a “technology of recovery” that is one of the core principles bridging African American literary studies and the digital humanities. The aim is to use Scalar’s visualization and tagging structures to explore stylistic, thematic, and social relationships among a small group of writers, as well as to explore the conversations these writers were having with established writers and editors like W.E.B. DuBois, Alain Locke, and William Stanley Braithwaite. As of this writing, the project is in a relatively early stage of development, with four books of poetry available as digital editions. 

[Update from 2022: please see our sister project, African American Poetry: a Digital Anthology, for additional poets and texts not originally included here.]

On the need for this archive

The existing digital archive infrastructure for women writers from the Harlem Renaissance is minimal at best. Works by writers like Georgia Douglas Johnson, Carrie Williams Clifford, Clara Ann Thompson, or Carrie Law Morgan Figgs can be accessed online via repositories like Archive.org and Hathi Trust, but these collections are of limited utility to readers. They tend to present their collections as PDF page images that lack useful metadata (i.e., semantic tags, publication information, historical annotations, or glossaries) or contextual or biographical information that might help a user know what she might be looking at. Sites that provide more useful introductions to these writers, like the Poetry Foundation or Poets.org, tend to only offer very limited selections from these poets’ works. Often the selections reflect critical consensus -- these are poems that have already been widely anthologized. Finally, since many of Harlem Renaissance poets published their works in The Crisis, a limited number of poems by these writers can be accessed via the digital page images of The Crisis that are available at the Modernist Journals Project, but searchability is limited, and again, there is little by way of biographical or contextual information to help a novice reader navigate the wealth of material available. Researchers aiming to dig deeper as well as teachers and students aiming for different thematic areas or particular historical topics (i.e., lynching incidents), could benefit from access to an archive designed to present these writers collections of poetry in full text format. Admittedly, a major limitation is American copyright law; currently, most full-text digital archives limit themselves to materials published before 1922. This is deeply limiting when arguably the most influential women writers of the Harlem Renaissance -- Gwendolen Bennett, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen -- only started to publish their work after that date.
We are very interested in exploring the thematic relationships that existed within this body of work. One way this site will do that is through semantic tags. As we enter each new poem into the site, we are tagging it with a range of terms, such as "slavery," "motherhood," "racism," "Christianity," etc.  

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. 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 and Ohio seem to be particularly important sites for the development of this early 20th century African American writing, and as the site evolves we intend to add geo-tags that will enable us to map the evolution of this body of work. 

Accessibility/ Exportability

Plain text versions of all poems on this site may be accessed from the following Google Drive folder:


This accessible version might be useful to readers in environments with limited access to the internet -- it comports with the ideals of low-bandwidth, minimal computing. It might also be easier to navigate for readers who have vision impairments or who prefer documents that are simpler to navigate than a Scalar project. 

Finally, the accessible document allows the texts from the site to be exportable for those users interested in quantitative analysis. Repurposing of these texts for quantitative analysis is encouraged under the framework of a Creative Commons-Attribution license. 

Further Reading on this site:

Origin of this project
Harlem Renaissance: Periodization and Definition
(Amardeep Singh)
Texts, Themes, Visualizations (Amardeep Singh)

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
Anne Spencer

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