The Harlem Renaissance remains exciting, inspiring, and irresistible in the first half of the 21st Century for the same reason that the many people who lived it found it exciting, inspiring, and irresistible in the first half of the 20th Century. Despite the soul-crushing challenges of war, racism, sexism, and political oppression of every kind, poets of the Harlem Renaissance shined a light of hope with the defiant brilliance of their songs, visual artists empowered their communities with the strength of visions that reinforced individual dignity, writers lent the power of their pens in service to the voices and lives of their people, and advocates for democracy stood their ground until justice was duly recognized and properly served. In this, the world’s first Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, we do something more than witness the triumphs and tragedies of poets such as Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer, novelists like Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston, musicians like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and performance artists such as Lena Horne and Paul Robeson. Through their challenges and victories, we are encouraged to identify and claim our own challenges and victories.
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance takes us inside the clubs, theatres, and relationships that made Harlem, New York City, the one-time “Party Capital of the World,” and one of the greatest cultural centers of any era. It also places on bold display the genius that gave the world ragtime, Jazz, the blues, gospel, swing, and all night dancing. Whereas previously we thought of the Harlem Renaissance primarily as the literary achievement of a handful of writers, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrates that it was a triumphant exultation of creative genius across the cultural board and one that spread both nationally and internationally. Moreover, through leaders such as James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, and W. E. B. Du Bois, it laid the foundation for what would grow into the extraordinary Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the kind of book one is happy to share with another but even happier to give as a gift while keeping one’s own.