The Harlem Renaissance, Edited by Cary D. Wintz

Posted on Jun 29, 2023
tl;dr: An unassuming introduction that is worth a look for those wanting to explore.

‘The Harlem Renaissance’ provides a keen look into the interwar African-American literary movement after which it is titled. Wintz provides both a history and anthology of key pieces from the movement in his efforts to provide a comprehensive overview of the historical key authors and themes. I will attempt in this review to address primarily the efforts of Wintz and not the writers which he included in the anthology that made up the bulk of the book. Importantly, I’m no expert in the Harlem Renaissance so my judgement is based solely on how I perceived this book. I am also not considered a POC by today’s standards and my understanding of race is thus informed. 

Efforts of the Editor 

The introduction provided context to and exploration of the themes of the Harlem Renaissance such that I who had only known it in name was well prepared for the anthology of selected texts. Wintz appears to be well-read and knowledgeable of the movement (a prerequisite for creating an anthology of this type.) Similarly, the chapters of the anthology which segmented the movement by time period were well introduced. I left not only prepared by keen to learn more about the movement and to explore its authors. The ‘black opinion’ of the movement at present and in past was at all times centred. 

The selection of pieces is (as far as I can tell) very well done. In particular, I enjoyed that the anthology was comprised not just fictional or artistic texts but also of literary criticism. Often a piece or selection of a particular writer would be presented and then followed by contemporaneous critical pieces that placed them in their context. This allows the modern reader to fully understand not only the texts but the racial context in which they were written. Just as important as the works of Renaissance authors was the discussion that surrounded them within and without the black community - certainly there was great disagreement during the Renaissance about its nature. However, it is clear to the modern reader that the renaissance succeeded to make lasting impact. Wintz was able to demonstrate this extremely well with his selections.

Works of the Renaissance 

The pieces themselves varied, if not in quality, in my general enjoyment of them. Standout poetry, excerpts and short pieces were plentiful and have definitely led a few new authors to land on my TBR - Cane by Jean Toomer especially. The texts presented consistently examined race and called me to examine my own relationship with it. In particular, as someone with mixed racial heritage the themes of miscegenation were particularly interesting as it is clear that the boundaries of race have changed significantly over the last century. Where today I am white, yesterday I am coloured. Not all readers would have such a connection but I think most would find the pieces thought-provoking. 

Conclusion

In all, Wintz’s role as editor was thoughtfully approached and the talents of the writers selected will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. I left feeling that I had a good sense of the Harlem Renaissance and glad that I picked my copy up in a Jerusalem hostel. Perhaps I’ll leave it in a Thai hostel for the next person to pick up. 

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