Its flame continues to burn today through the writings of contemporary African American authors.
It has been argued that the Harlem Renaissance was short-lived and without much effect on literature black or white. However, to say this and limit its impact to a short period in the 1920s is shortsighted, as the early writing of such authors as W.E.B. DuBois clearly “manifested an awareness of the possibilities of a black aesthetic still in development today...It might even be that its effects were still being strongly felt, and thus that it was still figuratively alive, as late as 1970.”2 The complex nature of the literary movement which we identify with the European Renaissance is very much a continuing project.
Clearly the literature of the period had roots firmly planted in the African experience of writers, most of whom were descendents of slaves. While some sought to incorporate slavery into their work, others such as Alain Locke in his 1926 book, The New Negro: An Interpretation sought to promote black authors as legitimate representatives of an expanding African-American culture. “Central to the development of this racial awakening is a new internationalism which Locke describes as primarily an effort to recapture contact with the scattered peoples of African derivation.” 3
While African roots of blacks in this period played an intrinsic role in life and literary development of blacks, the Renaissance had a surprising reciprocal effect on African writers such as Peter Abrahams as noted in his comments upon reading DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folks. “Du Bois...might have been writing about my land and people. The mood and feeling he described were native to me....[he] had given me a key to the understanding of the world. The Negro is not free.”4 A note here should explain that DuBois in his writing chose to explore