Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance

by Houston A. Baker Jr.
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Was the Harlem Renaissance part of the modernist movement?

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Though both the Harlem Renaissance and modernism movements took place in the 1920s, they are actually two separate literary movements. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance incorporated certain techniques from modernism, but those techniques do not place the movement in the umbrella of modernism. It is worth noting, too, that modernism...

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Though both the Harlem Renaissance and modernism movements took place in the 1920s, they are actually two separate literary movements. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance incorporated certain techniques from modernism, but those techniques do not place the movement in the umbrella of modernism. It is worth noting, too, that modernism began earlier and lasted longer than the Harlem Renaissance. Moreover, modernism was an international movement with important American figures, whereas the Harlem Renaissance was specific to the region of its name.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York. It spanned the 1920s and ended suddenly with the start of the Great Depression, at which point writers and other artists were forced to find jobs to sustain themselves. Between 1916 and 1920, many black Americans moved from the South to the industrialized north, where they found many more opportunities for jobs. Many of them settled in Harlem, which became a hub of artistic, literary, and musical talents. Writers and thinkers such as Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale-Hurston were among the key figures of the movement of the Harlem Renaissance.

Modernism is an artistic and cultural movement that began at the turn of the twentieth century, with a core period between World War I and World War II. Modernist writers explored the psychological wounds and spiritual scars of the war experience. The economic crisis in the United States at the beginning of the 1930s also left a mark on the work of American modernist writers in particular. The modernist movement pursued innovation in the language of both poetry and prose while addressing numerous contemporary topics, such as race and gender relations, spiritual malady, and the human condition. Key American figures in literary modernism include T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Faulkner.

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