Deconstructing/Constructing Simultaneously: Harlem Renaissance Writers Changing Worlds

deadline for submissions: 
September 4, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Christopher Allen Varlack
contact email: 

Deconstructing/Constructing Simultaneously: Harlem Renaissance Writers Changing Worlds

NeMLA 52 | Theme: Tradition and Innovation: Changing Worlds through the Humanities

March 11-14, 2021 at the Marriot Downtown in Philadelphia, PA


Historically the development of the African-American literary tradition provided Black writers and thinkers across time an opportunity to hone modes of Black expression while also countering the silencing they faced in public and political spheres. At the same time, it served as a means for Blacks to challenge the status quo—that tradition of white supremacy that left the nation’s growing African-American community disenfranchised from the “American Dream.” The poems, short stories, novels, and plays that Black writers produced were therefore tools used in the deconstruction of destructive and exclusionary sociopolitical traditions and in the raising of new traditions that celebrated voices, ideas, and perspectives far too often ignored. Langston Hughes, for instance, used his poetry to engage in poetic activism, as evidenced by works such as Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse. Centered on the pervasiveness of racism in the U.S. justice system, his work confronted Jim Crow culture headfirst, demonstrating the potential for poetry to not only challenge controversial traditions but also bring about change in what is often a notably inflexible world.

Building upon the 52nd annual Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) convention theme of “Tradition and Innovation: Changing Worlds through the Humanities,” this panel asks interested participants to consider how authors of the Harlem Renaissance era used artistic innovation to upend outmoded and destructive traditions, to decolonize the African-American mind, and to offer Black-authored definitions of Blackness after decades of stereotyping that had a stranglehold on the U.S. cultural imagination. In other words, how do Black artists of the Harlem Renaissance promote necessary change by challenging stagnant traditions both inter- and intra-racially? How do they use the creative word as a space to promote innovation in art as well as cultural representation?


Please submit an abstract for a ten minute presentation to Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack using NeMLA"s submission portal (https://cfplist.com/nemla/Home/login) no later than Friday, September 4, 2020 for consideration. Remember that indicate any A/V needs and that panelists may only present on one session of each type, according to NeMLA’s presenter policies.