JESSIE REDMON FAUSET graduated from Cornell University, was the editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis, editor and co-author for the African American children's magazine “Brownies Book,” represented the NAACP in the Pan African Congress in 1921, and translated French writings by black authors from Europe and Africa.
Jessie Redmon Fauset
She was a brilliant writer in her own rights, having authored over four books and several articles detailing her trips abroad. As Literary Editor of The Crisis, she propelled the careers of many of the most famous authors of the Harlem Renaissance, including Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Langston Hughes. She was the first to publish Hughes.
Jamaican CLAUDE McKAY made his mark in the United States as well as in Europe. He was an internationalist. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill borrowed McKay’s "Red Summer" anthology, “If We Must Die”, to motivate a weary United Kingdom during the bleak days of WWII. Shocked by the racism in segregated Charleston, South Carolina on his arrival to America in 1912, Jamaican Claude McKay turned to writing poetry. Reading W. E. B. Du Bois' “Souls of Black Folk” inspired his political activism.
Claude McKay: The Literary Identity from Jamaica to Harlem And Beyond
He became part of a group of black radicals in the U.S. that was unhappy both with fellow country-man Marcus Garvey's nationalism and with the temperate middle class reformist and conservative NAACP. Alongside Caribbean writers Cyril Briggs, Richard B. Moore, Wilfrid Domingo, McKay fought for black self-determination. His novels “Home to Harlem” and “Banjo” had a major impact on black intellectuals such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and others who would go on to pioneer the “Negritude” literary movement that took hold in Paris, French West Africa and the West Indies. Aimé Césaire stated that in Banjo, blacks were described truthfully and ‘without inhibition or prejudice’.
LANGSTON HUGHES was the most famous figure of the Harlem Renaissance and the leader of the ‘Niggerati’, as Wallace Thurman dubbed the group.
He was a writer, poet, columnist, playwright, and activist/social critic. Along with Claude McKay, Hughes’ black race consciousness and cultural nationalism influenced many local and foreign black writers, such as Jacques Roumain, Nicolás Guillén, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Martinique's René Maran from, and Léon Damas from French Guiana. Together with Franz Fannon, these intellectuals created their own Renaissance in France, The Negritude Movement. It emphasized radical black self-examination in the face of European colonialism.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON was a writer, anthropologist, and folklorist who traveled extensively and often immersed herself in local cultural practices in order to conduct her anthropological research. She documented African American folklore and wrote anthropological books, fiction poetry, and essays focusing on African and African American art and literature for Alain Locke’s “New Negro” during the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston
Together with Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, and Richard Bruce Nugent, she was part of the group famously known as the Niggerati. While Wallace Thurman dubbed the group the Niggerati, it was Zora Neale Hurston who dubbed their hangout at Thurman’s place, “Niggerati Manor”.
WALLACE THURMAN read the works of Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Havelock Ellis, Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire. Despite frail health and alcoholism, he charted a course for the African-American literary avant-garde and visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance to challenge the image of conscious correctness and the temperate approach fashioned by the older bourgeois intellectuals, who were followers of W.E.B. Du Bois, and the wider black middle class.
He believed that black authors should be more objective in their writings and not so self-conscious that they failed to acknowledge and celebrate the arduous conditions of African American lives. As a dark-skinned man, he actively brought forth issues of homosexuality, bisexuality, interracial relationships, promiscuity, prostitution, and the hypocrisy of color prejudice within the black community.
COUNTEE CULLEN was considered the most proficient black poet since Phillis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Adopted and raised by the Cullens of Harlem, Countee excelled in school and published poems such as “I Have a Rendezvous with Life” while still a High School student.
Described as ‘a rather shy black boy’, he went on to become a major crossover literary figure back in the early 1920’s. At New York University (1921-1925), he wrote most of the poems for his first three volumes. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and then went on to earn a masters degree in English and French at Harvard (1925-1927). During high school and up until his graduation from Harvard, he was the most popular black poet and virtually the most popular black literary figure in America, having already achieved national fame. True to his form, he considered poetry raceless, yet most of his work took on racial themes. Gerald Early called him the ‘black boy wonder’ and one of the most exciting American poets on the scene at the time.
He won more major literary prizes than any other black writer of the 1920s and was the second African American to win a Guggenheim Fellowship study in Paris. He later taught English and French at Frederick Douglass Junior High School where he would mentor future novelist and essayist James Baldwin.
RICHARD BRUCE NUGENT was the bourgeois who became a bohemian. He added personal flair and a gay bohemian lifestyle to the Renaissance as he snubbed and mocked the middle-class establishment at each opportunity. He felt society created restrictive boundaries and as such, was unwilling to live up to those expectations.
Richard Bruce Nugent
He was a writer as well as a visual artist, the bohemian of the Harlem Renaissance, and as the only openly gay member during such a time, he is remembered as one of its most interesting figures.
ARNA BONTEMPS was the quiet poet of the Renaissance. Like his close friend Langston Hughes and their fellow writers in the Harlem Renaissance, Arna Bontemps explored African-American experience in a wide variety of genres. As a poet, novelist, historian, anthologist and archivist, he enriched and chronicled, and preserved black cultural heritage, especially through his work at Yale University as Curator of the James Weldon Johnson Collection at the Beinecke Library
After graduating in 1923 from Pacific Union College Bontemps accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, where he became part of a group of African-American literary artists and scholars whose innovative work was beginning to attract attention. Bontemps’s poems are marked by a concern for the values of endurance and dignity— themes he treats in conservative forms even as he expresses his rage at injustice. They also reflect his immersion in the musical and oral traditions of African Americans.
Following his death in 1973, early estimates of his career from Sterling A. Brown and Aaron Douglas noted that he deserved to be known much better than he has been. Aptly, the, for prevalent views have come to regard him as a chronicler and keeper of black cultural heritage.