Call for Abstracts: Bonds Forged in Fire!!: Exploring the Social Networks and Social Distances in the Harlem Renaissance Era and Beyond

deadline for submissions: 
June 4, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
The Langston Hughes Society

Bonds Forged in Fire!!: Exploring the Social Networks and Social Distances in the Harlem Renaissance Era and Beyond
A Special Session for the Langston Hughes Society at the 93rd SAMLA Convention

November 4-6, 2021
Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel and Conference Center

Because there was not one core goal advanced at its center, the Harlem Renaissance, for many, was a disparate literary and cultural movement that even figures such as James Weldon Johnson felt had failed. After all, divisions formed among thinkers on the ideal direction for Black art, as indicated by the 1926 Crisis survey, and artists often found themselves bickering over what constituted an authentic representation of Blackness at a time when the United States was still consumed with monolithic visions of “the Negro” (see, for instance, “Negro Character as Seen by White Authors” by Sterling A. Brown or Ethnic Notions by Marlon Riggs). And yet, despite these divisions, the Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, was also marked by deeply intricate social networks that enabled Black art to thrive. Literary salons, for instance, were commonplace for the era, offering necessary space where Black “artists and intellectuals came together to encourage each other, share and develop their work, and immerse themselves in black culture, philosophy, and politics” (Williams 1080). The most famous of these was perhaps the weekly salons of Georgia Douglas Johnson, who opened her home to central figures such as Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Bruce Nugent, Zora Neale Hurston, and so many others whose work defined this groundbreaking moment in time (Williams 1081). 

Revealed here are both the social networks and social distance at work during a formative time in African-American literary history. While the salons offered one of many collaborative spaces in which Black artists convened to discuss the very nature of Black art and theories for Black community development (often centered around the socialist socioeconomic and political agenda), there was also a heavy spirit of individualism. As Langston Hughes noted in his brief response to the Crisis survey, “[T]he true literary artist is going to write about what he chooses anyway regardless of outside opinions. You write about the intelligent Negroes; Fisher about the unintelligent. Both of you are right….It’s the way people look at things, not what they look at, that needs to be changed” (“The Negro in Art” 192). Therefore,  to gain a better understanding of the Harlem Renaissance era (and the African-American literary tradition at large), we must be willing to examine both the undeniable spirit of collaboration that has fostered so many lasting ideals and perspectives on Black art as well as the equally powerful spirit of individualism that enabled Black artists to pursue their own paths, even if criticized for their “spiritual truancy.”

For this session at the ninety-third annual South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) Convention, the Langston Hughes Society is pleased to accept abstracts of no more than five hundred words (for a fifteen- to twenty-minute presentation) on these important topics. Interested participants are asked to consider, for instance, the nature of collaborative work during the Harlem Renaissance era and beyond, how these vital networks contributed to the intellectual and ideological arcs of this time, and literary representations of social networking in the African-American community as a vehicle for cultural and ideological exchange. Participants may also consider the ways in which Black artists flourished under social distance, venturing out from Harlem--the epicenter of Black cultural life at the time--to explore the Black condition in other sectors of the United States and across the globe. Some topics for consideration include but are not limited to:

  • the production of the infamous journal FIRE!! by Wallace Thurman in 1926

  • the collaborations between composer Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes on works such as Don’t You Want to Be Free?, Shakespeare in Harlem, Tropics After Dark (with Arna Bontemps), and the Ballad of the Brown King

  • representations of the “Niggerati” and life in “Niggerati Manor” in works such as Wallace Thurman’s 1932 roman à clef, Infants of the Spring, and Richard Bruce Nugent’s Gentleman Jigger, not published until 2008

  • the complex collaboration between Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston on the 1930 folk comedy, Mule-Bone

  • the impact of Walter Jekyll on the poetry of Claude McKay and his decision to employ Black vernacular expression in his 1912 collections, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads

  • the under-examined collaborations between Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes with the 1932 Popo and Fifina and the 1958 Book of Negro Folklore

  • points of convergence between the Harlem Renaissance and the earlier years of the Chicago Black Renaissance  

  • the text and image collaboration between Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava in the 1955 The Sweet Flypaper of Life

  • the correspondence and collaboration between Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner, including the 1970 spoken-word album Poets of the Revolution (recorded in 1964) 

  • the exploration of Black intellectual vagabondage in the novels of Claude McKay and his decision to explore the Black condition abroad while literature of the era focused predominantly on the African-American experience in the United States

  • the fictional depictions of collaboration among unlikely counterparts to challenge U.S. racism, such as W. E. B. Du Bois' 1920  short story "The Comet," or Western imperialism, such as his 1928 novel Dark Princess

  • the efforts of Zora Neale Hurston to gather African-American stories in the South, collecting folklore and cataloguing folk culture in areas largely neglected by other writers of her time, as evidenced by her 1935 Mules and Men and Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” not published until 2018

  • the satirical critique in George Schuyler’s 1931 Black No More of not only race relations and racial politics in the United States but also organizations such as the NAACP that Schuyler contended openly promoted a Black agenda while secretly flourishing on Black pain

While papers need not be centered on Langston Hughes or thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance era and while we encourage interested participants to consider how these issues unfolded in the African-American literary tradition at large, special consideration will be given to proposals with an emphasis on the work and/or legacy of Hughes.

The deadline for abstract submissions for this panel is Friday, June 4, 2021. Please send, as an E-mail attachment(s), your abstract along with a brief CV and 100-word biographical statement to Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack, President (lhsociety.president@gmail.com), to Dr. DeLisa D. Hawkes, Vice President (lhsociety.vp@gmail.com), and to Dr. Richard Hancuff, Secretary (lhsociety.secretary@gmail.com). Indicate, if applicable, any audio-visual needs. Note also that in addition to the membership and registration fees required for SAMLA, presenters on this session must also be current members of the Langston Hughes Society by the time of the conference in order to present. 

For more information on the Langston Hughes Society and our mission, please visit us online at www.langstonhughessociety.org.

Works Cited

“The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed.” The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Gene Andrew Jarrett, Princeton UP, 2007,pp. 190-204.

Williams, Carmaletta M. “Salons.” Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Cary D. Wintz and Paul Finkelman, Routledge, 2004, pp. 1080-1083.