The Harlem Renaissance remains exciting, inspiring, and irresistible in the first half of the 21st Century for the same reason that the many people who lived it found it exciting, inspiring, and irresistible in the first half of the 20th Century. Despite the soul-crushing challenges of war, racism, sexism, and political oppression of every kind, poets of the Harlem Renaissance shined a light of hope with the defiant brilliance of their songs, visual artists empowered their communities with the strength of visions that reinforced individual dignity, writers lent the power of their pens in service to the voices and lives of their people, and advocates for democracy stood their ground until justice was duly recognized and properly served. In this, the world’s first Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, we do something more than witness the triumphs and tragedies of poets such as Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer, novelists like Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston, musicians like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and performance artists such as Lena Horne and Paul Robeson. Through their challenges and victories, we are encouraged to identify and claim our own challenges and victories. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance takes us inside the clubs, theatres, and relationships that made Harlem, New York City, the one-time “Party Capital of the World,” and one of the greatest cultural centers of any era. It also places on bold display the genius that gave the world ragtime, Jazz, the blues, gospel, swing, and all night dancing. Whereas previously we thought of the Harlem Renaissance primarily as the literary achievement of a handful of writers, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrates that it was a triumphant exultation of creative genius across the cultural board and one that spread both nationally and internationally. Moreover, through leaders such as James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, and W. E. B. Du Bois, it laid the foundation for what would grow into the extraordinary Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the kind of book one is happy to share with another but even happier to give as a gift while keeping one’s own.
In the pages of theEncyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, my co-author on the project, Sandra L. West, and I accepted the challenge of attempting to provide meaningful insight into the people, places, and events that became the Harlem Renaissance. That the Harlem Renaissance represents one of those rare moments in history when the greater integrity of the human spirit triumphed brilliantly over the lesser impulses of human bigotry and prejudice remains indelibly evident.
The music, sculpture, paintings, poems, and novels of the era continue to inform the sensibilities of students of human nature in general and African-American culture in particular, just as they continue to stand in their own right as enduring works of art transcending the fertile grounds of history, geography, and race from which they sprung. What is possibly less evident is that the leaders and followers of the Harlem Renaissance were every bit as intent on using black culture to help make the United States a more functional democracy as they were on employing black culture to “vindicate” black people. If the founding fathers and mothers had presented America with a good start in those goals and principles stated so eloquently in the U. S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation, then women and men such as journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, performing artist Florence Mills, author and political activist James Weldon Johnson, philosopher Alain Locke, sociologist Charles S. Johnson, and author Langston Hughes all thought the first half of the twentieth century a good time to put such goals and principles into life-saving practice.
--Presented the New Jersey Notable Book Award 1999-2005 by the New Jersey Center for the Book under the aegis of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.
Interracial Interaction and the Harlem Renaissance
Interaction between blacks and whites in the United States throughout the first half of the 1900s ran the gamut from the intimacy of affectionate personal relationships to the murderous violence of riots and lynching.
With the apartheid system of Jim Crow sanctioned by both legislation and social custom in the United States, the division of blacks and whites was an ongoing political and personal issue during those decades preceding, including, and following the Harlem Renaissance. Whereas the South was routinely vilified for such racist extremes as hanging blacks from trees and burning them alive, the lesser racism of segregation in such public accommodations as restaurants, hotels, and transportation was common in every region of the country. Interracial marriages, along with the aggressive political advocacy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and protests of the black press, proved one of the principal threats and thus challenges, to apartheid in the United States.
All That Jazz
From Conrad Aiken to Flannery O’Connor to Midnight, Savannah has always been a literary town, But certainly one of her most consistently excellent–and consistently underrated–writers is the man known as Aberjhani.
Known for his nationally published short stories and poetry, Aberjhani has received critical acclaim for his ability to encapsulate the Southern black experience in a sensitive and poignant way that’s accessible to readers of any race or region.
He has recently branched out into nonfiction, coauthoring an ambitious and expansive work, Enyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, with former Savannah State University professor Sandra L. West.
Complete with appendices and an informative map section, the Encyclopedia contains enormously entertaining listings of virtually anything germane to that robust expression of African-American culture that took place in New York City and other urban centers in the first third of the 20th Century. But not only that, the book examines why this renaissance had enormous impact not only on black America, but America as a whole.
–Jim Morekis, Connect Savannah
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Although numerous reference works contain significant entries on the Harlem Renaissance, this is the first encyclopedia devoted to the movement. Entries are ordered alphabetically and cover famous names (Duke Ellington, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston); influential organizations (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Universal Negro Improvement Association); popular black magazines and newspapers (Amsterdam News, Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier); musicals (Hot Chocolates, How Come?); notable places ancillary to the awakening in Harlem (Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.); and other topics (Howard University, Patrons, Rent party). Entries on nonblack people who had an effect on the time period, like Fiorella LaGuardia, illustrate the comprehensiveness of the volume.
Most entries are half a page, though some stretch over a few pages. The volume is liberally filled with photos and graphics that bring the time period to life. All entries are followed by a further reading list. Additionally, there is a compiled bibliography at the end of the book. Cross-references are plentiful and helpful. A brief (three-page) foreword, entitled “Race, Blackness, and Modernism during the Harlem Renaissance,” provides a historical context and background for the entries, as does the introduction, “Black Phoenix Rising.”
A “Glossary of Harlem Renaissance Slang” in appendix A defines terms such as dogs (feet) and kicks (shoes). Appendix B contains maps delineating subjects like African American population, states with laws banning interracial marriage, and train routes used to migrate northward. Even a somewhat detailed map of Harlem is provided. A chronology begins in 1619, when the first slaves came to Virginia, and continues up until the present day. Indexing is detailed but not comprehensive; the index entry Talented Tenth, for example, misses the references to “Talented Tenth” in the W. E. B. DuBois entry.
Overall, this is a fine resource—one could read it like a book, from cover to cover. Recommended for high-school, public, and academic libraries.
(Booklist/February 15, 2004)
SELECTED ESSENTIAL TITLE FOR HOME LIBRARY
The award-winning Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance was listed in the January/February 2006 seventh anniversary edition of BLACK ISSUES BOOK REVIEW as one its recommended “Essentials, selections for the well-stocked library.”
In a two-page article titled “Just the Facts,” Brooklyn writer and editor, Zakia Carter noted that such works as the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, the first on the subject, “are foundations of a good home library.”
In her article, on pages 54 and 55 of the magazine, Carter observed the following: “A glossary of Harlem Renaissance slang, maps, lists of contemporary museums with collections of works from the period, and photographs flesh out the alphabetically arranged entries of the various artists, intellectuals, books, journals, writers, organizations, collectives, locales and events that make up the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Checkmark Books, 2003). Such entries as those on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Great Migration, Zora Neale Hurston, the National Urban League, Charlie Parker, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, make this the only encyclopedia dedicated solely to black America’s golden age of cultural productivity in the 1920s and ‘30s.”
--Black Issues Book Review
SEASON'S GREETINGS FROM ESSENCE MAGAZINE
Celebrate Harlem's past and present with The Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.
I was looking for reviews of my short stories for my upcoming short story book when I came upon this encyclopedia. I have A friend, Cary Wintz, who has also written a history of the Harlem Renaissance. Last year and the McCleary Symposium, I wrote a poem, The Roaring 20s, that has brought a great deal of search activity to my website.
I haven't heard from you for a while, but it looks like you've been very busy and successful. I will be using your review of my short story, Hit and Run, on my back cover.
Authors always welcome positive reviews of their work but one of the greatest indicators of a nonfiction book’s value and impact would have to be whether or not it shows up in the citations of other books dealing with the same subject. In the case of “Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance” (Facts On File) the evidence can be seen in the following list of books that cite the Encyclopedia in their reference sources:
--"Belleville: 1814-1914” by Robert C. Fietsam and Judy Belleville.
--“Recommended Reference Books for Small and Medium-sized Libraries and Media Centers 2004 Edition” (Recommended Reference Books) (hb) by Martin Dillon.
--“Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance Era” (pb) by Craig Gable.
--“Millennium Folk: American Folk Music Since the Sixties” (pb) August 30, 2006 (University of Georgia Press) by Thomas R. Gruning
--“Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, 13th Edition (with CD-ROM): Who They Are! What They Want! And How to Win Them Over! (Writer's Guide) (pb)” by Jeff Herman.
--“Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents 2004: Who They Are! What They Want! and How to Win Them Over!” (pb) by Jeff Herman.
--“African-American Pride: Celebrating Our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy” by Tyehimba Jess.
--“Richard Wright: A Biography (Literary Greats)” (Library Binding) Twenty-first Century Books, 2007,by Debbie Levy.
--"Music Musique: French & American Piano Composition in the Jazz Age" (hb) Indiana University Press, 2006, by Barbara Meister.
--"Black France: Colonialism, Immigration, and Transnationalism" Indiana University Press, 2006, by Dominic Thomas.
I clicked on your name, because I've heard it before (don't know where) I see you have established an incredible career as an independent writer! What books, and so many. As a jazz piano player, I want to buy this book badly, but I am broke this month due to being single and having to pay for a full house and insurance bills. But soon I will get it. Duke Ellington is my favorite Jazz Composer of all time (and pianist) Incredible that he could cross such musical and commercial bounderies at such a time in history for most Black Americans! Is the time period in you book , the time he was playing in Harlem? I love jazz, but my knowledge of its history is not complete. Again, I will struggle to read on your pages, but you have so much I don't know where to begin! Incredible acheivement for any writer; when did you first publish?
Good luck, I will be back.
Aberjhani, now that I've learned I can get a copy of this wonderful book in paperback for $21.95, I will do so right away (and save for a hard copy). I've read excerpts and also talked to people who have copies. They have nothing but love for The Encylopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Yesterday, I talked to a radio producer who told me that he's already swiped his station's copy because he can't put it down. It seems that you and co-author Sandra West have managed to get people reading history with the same enthusiasm they'd read a novel, and so, you've performed a literary miracle. ~~Nordette