Posts Tagged ‘Harlem Renaissance’

Who knew?

I guess I finally ordered enough books on amazon.com and the Kindle to get the attention of somebody. (I am still getting to some of these). An email  invitation to review this book was my motivation to pare down my comments on Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance posted here. After some trial and error, my first Amazon book review was published on my birthday (yesterday, in case I did not make that clear).

The good news was that no one else had written a review for it. The bad news is that I did not have an example. Therefore, I fell into some pitfalls. I got rejected the first submission with enough hints that I could revise and resubmit.

In the process, I learned a few things:

1. It helps to read their guidelines.

2. It helps not to promote anything but what is sold on their website.

3. It helps not to promote anything you have for sale on their website, nor anywhere else.

4. It helps to have bought the book from them.

5. It helps to figure out how to contact them for answers.

6. It helps to have someone, a son or daughter, read your entry before submitting it. Clarity and typos are the major offenders. Spell check and grammar suggestions are not fool-proof.

7. It helps to have read the book!

I found this a good way to give praise to a book and writer I am especially fond of. It is something to try again. Writing for yourself is different from writing for an organization with specific guidelines. Staying within that format will please them and help you hone your writing skills. It helps to be open to criticism and to have enough persistence to get it done.

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Nella Larsen in 1928

Nella Larsen in 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking for Nella

Nella Larsen, a biography by Thadious Davis, is worth reading and rereading. Which I have been doing. Years ago I received a call identifying someone collecting my paintings. She has become a dear friend who introduced me to the fascinating life and times of author, Nella Larsen.

Davis’ has written a well-researched book introducing an important woman author, who has not been well-known.

Nella Larsen was self-invented, mysterious and faded from her own history by choice.

Her journey from a family of mixed race living in Chicago, to Fisk in Nashville, and Harlem gave her the stories to write about. These are also places I have lived.

She had a few detours in Europe while my detours were here in the States.

Is the value of biography to get understanding where people’s lives intersect? This life study is important for many reasons. Davis uses her careful research to explain the construction of Larsen’s novels. It is instructive for anyone working in that format. Nella was so well read that she was able to incorporate themes from wide-ranging topics,authors and historical myths.

While she had only 2 novels and short stories published, their merits were acknowledged in her lifetime.

A second reason to read this book is the history of The New Negro Writers leading to the period called The Harlem Renaissance. The other reason is that her life, writings and the times deal with the African-American struggle for racial and family identity.

Davis shares her sources throughout with footnotes. The ‘characters’ and places are real. My readings can often tell about people and places I know. Tucked away in the texts are these surprises, finding old friends and favorite places. Larsen’s personal struggles echo those of many women. Women of any race or time deal with integrating their own needs and desires when limited by culture and personal choices.

Larsen was part of the second generation past the Civil War. When the soldiers returned from Europe in World War I, a strong air of racial pride followed. Davis mentions this event, followed by the Red Summer of 1919 as motivations for African-Americans to find expression through the arts. She also explains why these artists were accepted and promoted for a decade or more.

Who knew?

I did not know about Dr. and Mrs. Larsen Imes until I read this book. I recently retraced Nella Larsen Imes. She returned to Nashville as the wife of a brilliant, highly educated scientist and lived in a home built for them.

(See post with photos. Looking for Nella 2)                                                                             There are two views of the home, still elegant,  sitting on a large lot across the street from the Fisk campus. Dr. Imes could walk across the street to his office, laboratory and classrooms. Across the street in front of their house, on the corner, is a beautiful white house, former home of Arna Bontemps. Down the street at the next corner is the home built for the James Weldon Johnsons. All of these were part of the Harlem scene of the 1920s to 1930s.) We lived in the Johnson house when we arrived in Nashville from 1978-1982.) All but the Larsen Imes home are on the historic register.

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Power Plant, Harlem by Aaron Douglas. Oil. 1939.

Power Plant, Harlem by Aaron Douglas. Oil. 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From December 14, 2008

“On a Treasure Hunt for Artworks Stashed among Roomfuls of Books”

Source: NY Times

New York University Fales Library devoted to the novel and New York writing.

Elmer Babst Library artists collection  – 70 Washington SQ. South

New Deal’s WPA, Queens Borough Public Libraries


“A loftier group of four murals, “Aspects of Negro Life”(1934) by Aaron Douglas – also   painted under a federal program – hangs in the main reading room of its New York Public Library‘s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. With their almost silhouetted figures orchestrated in clever geometricized arrangements, the murals trace the origins of black culture in Africa and its survival through slavery, lynching and urbanization in the United States.”

Who knew?

Aaron Douglas was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance  (Aaron Douglas came Nashville to head the art department at Fisk University. His murals in the Administration building have been restored.)

African artists who were revered:

Olowe of Ise (circa 1875 – 1938)

Akati Akpele Kendo of Yoruba court – 19th century

Current show:

Bill Traylor (1854-1947) was an African American artist from Chattanooga. His work is now on view  at the Frist Visual Arts Center, Nashville. (through May 25)

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Reading List

English: Ernest Hemingway with American writer...

Image via Wikipedia

Genet, A Biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple (1989)

A great read! This easy to read biography is of the woman who wrote for 50 years as the Paris correspondent for New Yorker magazine.

She first went to Paris in 1921. Her observations of  her times included the Second world War.

She asked: “When I die, let it not be said I wrote for the New Yorker for fifty years. Let it be said that once I stood by a friend.”

Despite her admonition, she is remembered for her ‘Letters from Paris’ as well as her personal friendships with writers and artists who were also ex-pats.

Alice Dunbar Nelson

Image via Wikipedia

Give Us Each Day, the Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, edited by Gloria T. Hull (1984)

Clouding her own work as a poet and speaker, Alice Dunbar-Nelson lived in the shadow of her first husband.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was acclaimed as the ‘first famous African American poet.’  She most often was asked to speak about him and to recite his poems.

While it is often tedious to follow a diary, this is edited to keep the reader interested in what happens next. The introduction by the editor is most informative.

Like Janet Flanner, Dunbar-Nelson associated with writers and other artists, was on the fringe of the Harlem Renaissance and fought with the ‘injustices’ of her day.

Money was always an issue for her. She struggled through the Depression years to keep her extended family afloat and to assist her husband in his dreams to get a political appointment.

The book covers years important for the country and for the financial elevation of African Americans. She travelled repeatedly to make speeches. This caused her at times to use her identity as a white person to get better accommodations.

Despite these setbacks, Dunbar-Nelson is seen as devoted to her family and her writing.

These two women present interesting contrasts in their choices and the circumstances of their lives.


Dr. Robert Farris Thompson attended a  Studio Museum in Harlem forum on October 20, 2011. The interview is posted on the Museum website. Dr. Thompson is a professor at Yale University and famous for his work in African art. His recent book,  Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music builds on his research.

The interviewer was Dr. Lowery Stokes. She was a former president of the museum.


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