where the writers are
The Harlem Renaissance: Jean Toomer Led the Way for Langston Hughes
Jean Toomer Novel Cover from 1923

My novel White Man’s Blues led me to study African-American literature, which Red Room asked us to blog about this week.  My study brought me quickly to the Harlem Renaissance, one of those hotspots of brilliance that flash in literature when the stars line up.  It was Jean Toomer, from the “Mulatto Middle Class in Hancock County, Georgia" who led the way with his startling novel, Cane, which I recommend to anyone wanting to understand the modern Renaissance and experience true innovation in the novel form.

Unfortunately, Cane didn’t sell well during Toomer’s lifetime and he moved to less creative forms.  But he led the way for people like Langston Hughes, who gained great national and international notoriety as one of the finest writers in the English language.

I’m including a poem of Mr. Hughes that shows a little edge, a little of what we white folks call righteous indignation.  Much of Hughes’s poetry isn’t angry, but I’ve chosen to include this because it seems Hughes releases cultural tension by revealing Alberta’s truth.

       Madam and her Madam

       By Langston Hughes

            I worked for a woman,
            She wasn't mean—
            But she had a twelve-room
            House to clean.

            Had to get breakfast,
            Dinner, and supper, too—
            Then take care of her children
            When I got through.

            Wash, iron, and scrub,
            Walk the dog around—
            It was too much,
            Nearly broke me down.

            I said, Madam,
            Can it be
            You trying to make a
            Pack-horse out of me?

            She opened her mouth.
            She cried, Oh, no!
            You know, Alberta,
            I love you so!

            I said, Madam,
            That may be true—
            But I'll be dogged
            If I love you!