Famous African American Writers
Langston HughesLangston Hughes was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, which was the African American artistic movement in the 1920s that celebrated black life and culture. Hughes's creative genius was influenced by his life in New York City's Harlem, a primarily African American neighborhood.
Langston HughesHis literary works helped shape American literature and politics. Hughes, like others active in the Harlem Renaissance, had a strong sense of racial pride. Through his poetry, novels, plays, essays, and children's books, he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture, humor, and spirituality.
Zora Neale HurstonA novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston was the prototypical authority on black culture from the Harlem Renaissance. She first gained attention with her short stories such as "John Redding Goes to Sea" and "Spunk" which appeared in black literary magazines.
Zora Neale HurstonAfter several years of anthropological research financed through grants and fellowships, Zora Neale Hurston's first novel Jonah's Gourd Vine was published in 1934 to critical success. In 1935, her book Mules and Men, which investigated voodoo practices in black communities in Florida and New Orleans, also brought her kudos.The year 1937 saw the publication of what is considered Hurston's greatest novel Their Eyes Watching God. And the following year her travelogue and study of Caribbean voodoo Tell My Horse was published. It received mixed reviews, as did her 1939 novel Moses, Man of the Mountain. Her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road was a commercial success in 1942, despite its overall absurdness, and her final novel Seraph on the Suwanee, published in 1948, was a critical failure.
Zora Neale HurstonZora Neale Hurston was a utopian, who held that black Americans could attain sovereignty from white American society and all its bigotry, as proven by her hometown of Eatonville. Never in her works did she address the issue of racism of whites toward blacks, and as this became a nascent theme among black writers in the post World War II ear of civil rights, Hurston's literary influence faded. She further scathed her own reputation by railing the civil rights movement and supporting ultraconservative politicians. She died in poverty and obscurity.
Alice Dunbar-NelsonAlice Ruth Moore was born on July 19, 1875 in New Orleans. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from a 2-year teacher training program at Straight College, now Dillard University. She later studied at Cornell University, Columbia University , and the University of Pennsylvania where she specialized in psychology and English educational testing.
Alice Dunbar-NelsonOn March 6, 1898 she married the celebrated poet Paul Laurence Dunbar after a courtship by correspondence, and moved to Washington, DC. They separated in 1902. Her final marriage, one which lasted until her death, was to Robert J. Nelson, a journalist, in 1916. Dunbar-Nelson, who was very light complexioned, often passed for white, and was sometimes frustrated in her relations with darker-skinned African Americans because of it. A complex woman who was a poet, journalist, playwright, and unpublished novelist, Alice engaged in intimate relationships with both men and women.
Alice Dunbar-NelsonDuring her life, Alice was a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier and the Washington Eagle. From 1921 to 1931, Dunbar-Nelson kept a diary which chronicles her life and contains portraits of such friends and associates as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Mary McLeod Bethune. Alice Dunbar-Nelson died on September 18, 1935 of heart failure.
Countee CullenCountee Cullen won more major literary prizes than any other black writer of the 1920s. On March 30, 1903 Countee Cullen, was born. His grandmother raised him until she died. When she passed away, a couple by the name of Reverend Frederick A. and Carolyn Belle (Mitchell) Cullen adopted him.
Countee Cullen Cullen attended DeWitt Clinton High School (1918-1921). He edited the school's newspaper, assisted in editing the literary magazine, Magpie, and began to write poetry that achieved notice. Cullen was a very intelligent individual. He went to school at New York University (1921-1925), which is where he wrote many of his poems for his book Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927), and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927). After graduating from NYU he attend Harvard University (1925-1927). He graduated from Harvard with a masters in French and English.
Countee Cullen On April 9,1928 he married Yolande Dubois at the Salem Methodist Church in Harlem. A teacher in Baltimore, Yolande was the only child of W.E.B. Dubois, the founder and editor of the NAACP publication, The Crisis. After a brief honeymoon the couple went to France and Cullen pursued his Guggenheim research. A third volume of poetry, The Ballad of the Brown Girl, was published in 1928 and a fourth, The Black Christ and Other Poems, came the following year.Cullen liked to write about his culture. His use of racial themes in his verse was striking at the time. His material was never alike and every poem he wrote had a different feel to it.
Countee CullenIn 1934, Cullen began teaching English and French at Frederick Douglass Junior High School on West 140th Street in Harlem. Cullen died on January 9,1946 at the age of 42 from complications resulting from high blood pressure.
Jessie R. FausetJessie Redmon Fauset was a novelist, poet, and editor during the Harlem Renaissance period. Fauset was born in Fredericksville, New Jersey. Her father was a minister and her mother died when she was a child. In 1905, Fauset graduated from Cornell University, and began working as a teacher in Washington, D.C.
Jessie R. FausetIn 1919, she received her masters from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating Fauset moved to New York where she served as the literary editor for the NAACPs magazine, The Crisis. She published works written by such writers as Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay. She also edited the childrens periodical, The Brownies. In 1926, she left The Crisis, and began teaching in New York City schools. Fauset wrote four novels, There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral (1928), The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life (1931), an Comedy American Style (1933).
Claude McKayClaude McKay is regarded as one of the first significant writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Jamaica, he arrived in the United States in 1912 at the age of 21 and had already gained recognition as a poet with his book Songs of Jamaica, published in 1911.
Claude McKayHe attended Tuskegee Institute and Kansas State University, then traveled to New York and participated in the literary movements there, both in Harlem and in Greenwich Village. His sonnet, "If We Must Die," is his most popular poem. He earned his living as a porter on the railroad and was a resident of Harlem. His book of poems, Harlem Shadows, published in 1922, was a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance. He also became associate editor of The Liberator, a socialist magazine of art and literature. Working closely with Max Eastman, he traveled to Moscow in 1923 in sympathy with the Bolshevik Revolution and became a sort of national hero there.
Claude McKayOther books by Claude McKay include Banjo, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, and his autobiography, A Long Way From Home. Home to Harlem, published in the spring of 1928, became the first novel by a Harlem writer to reach the bestseller list.
Famous African American Musicians
The Cotton Club
The Apollo Theater
Louis ArmstrongLouis Armstrong is the most important figure in jazz history. He played innovative, powerful, yet technically brilliant solos that took jazz from a fun "dance" music to an art form. With his divine and unmistakable sound, he more-or-less invented the jazz solo, as well as the concept of "swing."
Louis ArmstrongHe took was born in New Orleans in 1901. He was raised in the tough part of town. On New Year's Eve, 1912, he fired his father's gun in celebration and was arrested and sent to the Colored Waifs' Home. There, he quickly excelled in music and was promoted to bugler. Afterwards, he played around town and on riverboats. He joined his idol, King Oliver. In 1922, two years after Oliver left for Chicago, he summoned Armstrong to join him and he did. In Chicago, they became the top group, and in the group, Armstrong met his second wife, pianist Lil Hardin. With Hardin's urging, he eventually left Chicago and joined Fletcher Henderson's orchestra in New York. There, he continued influencing countless musicians.
Louis ArmstrongHe returned to Chicago in the late 1920s and recorded a series of records for $50 a side. These recordings, the Hot Fives & Sevens, became revered and thoroughly studied by jazz musicians and enthusiasts through the ages. During the timeframe of these recordings, Armstrong started working with Earl Hines, a pianist who was Armstrong's counterpart on piano. According to legend, while Armstrong was singing in the studio, his music fell off the stand. Armstrong looked at the producer in the booth, who signaled for him to continue, so he started "singing" a solo with nonsensical phrases. This is the supposed birth of "scat singing" which Armstrong invented and which has become a standard part of jazz singing.
Louis ArmstrongIn the 1930s, Satchmo (a nickname that came from