Revisiting the Harlem Renaissance: Poetry and the New Negro Literacy

When: Thursday, April 29, 2021, 5:30pm

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Mahogany L. Browne head shot, Gwendolyn Bennett head shot
Poet Mahogany L. Browne; Photograph of poet Gwendolyn Bennett in the 1920s/ New York Public Library

The Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Distinguished Lectures in Urban History

Alain Locke believed that a New Negro, his metaphor for the new persona he saw art creating in the 1920s, required a new language, a new literacy, by which to make its new vision of itself legible for all. He located that new literacy in the work of young poets like Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Langston Hughes, who were “foretelling in the mirror of art what we must see and recognize in the streets of tomorrow,”as he put it in “Youth Speaks.” Poetry occupied pride of place in his Harlem number of the Survey Graphic (March 1, 1925) and The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925).  Why poetry?  How did poetry express the inexpressible in the New Negro more compellingly than sociological analysis or political speech? Jeffrey C. Stewart will explore these questions in an opening talk, followed by a reading and conversation with poet Mahogany L. Browne.

This is the second event in our Revisiting the Harlem Renaissance series; to view all of the events in this series, click here

About the Speakers:
Mahogany L. Browne is a writer, organizer & educator. Executive Director of Bowery Poetry Club & Artistic Director of Urban Word NYC & Poetry Coordinator at St. Francis College. Browne has received fellowships from Agnes Gund, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby & Black Girl Magic (Macmillan), Kissing Caskets (Yes Yes Books) & Dear Twitter (Penmanship Books). She is also the founder of the Woke Baby Book Fair (a nationwide diversity literature campaign) & as an Arts for Justice grantee, is completing her first book of essays on mass incarceration, investigating its impact on women and children. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Jeffrey C. Stewart is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Previously, he was director of research at the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum, a guest curator at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, and a senior advisor to the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore, Maryland. The author of numerous articles, essays, and books, Stewart has taught at Harvard University, Yale University, UCLA, Tufts University, Howard University, Scripps College, and George Mason University before coming to the University of California, Santa Barbara as professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies from 2008-2016. His book, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press and has won the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction, the 2019 James A. Rawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians, 2019 Mark Lynton History Prize of the Nieman Foundation and Columbia School of Journalism, the 2019 American Book Award, and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Stewart is also the editor of the forthcoming book The New Negro Aesthetic: Selected Writings by Alain Locke.


This program is made possible by Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe.

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