Harlem Spectacle (MSA 14)

full name / name of organization: 
Matthew Hannah / University of Oregon
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In the chapter "Spectacles in Color" in his autobiography The Big Sea, Langston Hughes describes the famous Hamilton Club Lodge Ball as the "Strangest and gaudiest of all Harlem spectacles." For Hughes, the ball where "men dress as women and women dress as men" is representative of Harlem life in the 1920's. After positioning the drag ball within the broader context of Harlem life—including Countee Cullen's wedding and the church services of Rev. Dr. Becton—Hughes comes to the conclusion that "Harlem likes spectacles of one kind or another."
Recent scholarship has begun to examine the Harlem Renaissance in light of these types of spectacle. This focus on Harlem's spectacular quality in the 1920's has expanded previous understandings of the Harlem Renaissance, exploring it in terms of a dynamic interplay between various sexual and racial identities. Due to the unique spatiotemporal conditions of Harlem in the 1920's as a site of migration for rural African Americans and a popular destination for whites escaping Prohibition, Harlem can be read as providing a space for interplay between various social groups, sexual identities, and ethnicities. Contemporary criticism reveals that the Harlem Renaissance's artistic output is, in part, a product of these urban confluences. Moreover, this dynamic confrontation is apparent in the kinds of spectacles Harlem enjoys. Papers should expand upon this role of spectacle in Harlem's historical, social, or artistic productions.
Please send abstract (250 words) to Matthew Hannah (mhannah@uoregon.edu) and include a brief bio. Deadline is April 1st.