The Harlem Renaissance was a period in American literature, which spanned from the end of World War I into the 1930. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, Angelina Grimke, Jean Toomer, and Langston Hughes wrote about the alienation and marginalization in American society. The movement was called the Harlem Renaissance because it was mainly based in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Here are a few novels from the Harlem Renaissance that you really MUST read!
by Zora Neale Hurston. HarperCollins. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937) centers around Janie Crawford, who tells her story in dialect about her early life with her grandmother, through marriages, abuse, and more. The novel has elements of mythic realism, drawing from Hurston's study of black folk tradition in the South. Although Hurston's work was almost lost to literary history, Alice Walker helped to resurrect an appreciation of "Their Eyes" and other novels.
by Nella Larsen. Penguin. "Quicksand" (1928) is one of the greatest novels from the Harlem Renaissance, centering around Helga Crane, who has a white mother and black father. Helga feels the rejection of both her parents, and this sense of rejection and alienation follows her. Helga can find no real means of escape, even as she moves from her teaching job in the South, to Harlem, to Denmark, and then back where she started. Larsen explores the realities of hereditary, social and racial forces.
by Langston Hughes. Simon & Schuster. "Not without Laughter" (1930) was the first novel by Langston Hughes, who is recognized as an important contributor to American literature of the 20th century. The novel is about Sandy Rodgers, who learns about the realities of life in his hometown of Stanton, Kansas. Hughes also integrates a bit of the Southern culture and the blues into this novel, which also draws from his own experiences growing up in the South.
by Jean Toomer. Norton. Jean Toomer's "Cane" (1923) is a unique novel, made up of poems, characters sketches, and stories. "Cane" was the only significant book that Toomer published during his lifetime, perhaps in part due to the commercial failure of the novel. Even if the book didn't make much money, critics applauded the new style of this promising new novelist.
by Edward Christopher Williams. HarperCollins. "When Washington Was in Vogue" is a love story--told in a series of letters from Davy Carr to Bob Fletcher, a friend in Harlem. The book is remarkable as the first epistolary novel in African-American literary history, and as an important contribution to the Harlem Renaissance.