Celebrating Women of the Harlem Renaissance

The renaissance in Harlem was a pivotal point in the existence of people of African de...

Women Harlem Renaissance The renaissance in Harlem was a pivotal point in the existence of people of African descent in America. This “New Negro Movement” created spaces and opportunities for black art and intellectualism to thrive. In an era when women’s rights were often put aside, black women artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals were able to strengthen the voice of the black American. In honor of black history month, we want to recognize and celebrate the black women who opened up the doors for other black women to express and create. These are some of the most influential women of the Harlem Renaissance:

Nella Larsen
Source: blackhistorynow.com
"Nella Larsen was born to a West Indies-born father and a Danish mother. She was a famous writer during the Harlem Renaissance. Her two novels Quicksand and Passing, were based on gender and racial issues. She became the first African-American woman to win the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing. Her career was cut short with the end of Harlem Renaissance. She devoted the next 30 years of her life, as a supervising nurse in a hospital in New York." Text from Buzzle.
Gwendolyn Bennett
Source: washingtonart.com
"Gwendolyn Bennett was born in Giddings, Texas in 1902. Raised firmly in the black middle class, she attended Columbia University briefly before graduating from Pratt Institute in 1924. She then became an instructor in design at Howard University, worked as an editor at the African American magazine Opportunity, and was one of the founders of the short-lived but critically important New Negro magazine Fire!! Bennett traveled widely, writing formally controlled, image-rich poems about literary forebears, pan-African solidarity, and the beauty she found in African American people and creativity, something of a novel position at the time." Text from Poets.org.
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Source: washingtonart.com
"Georgia Johnson Douglas was born to George Camp and Laura Jackson Camp in Atlanta, Georgia. Her mixed heritage was a theme in some of her literary works. She completed her graduation from Atlanta University Normal School, in 1896. She also attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, in 1902, and the Cleveland College of Music. She went on to become a poet, playwright and journalist. She published her first poem in 1916, in NAACP's Crisis magazine. Her first book of poetry The Heart of a Woman was published in 1918. It focused on the experiences of a woman. In the collection Bronze (1922), her poems were based on racial experiences she had faced in her career. Her best known book An Autumn Love Cycle was published in 1925. She had written more than 200 poems, 40 plays, 30 songs, and edited 100 books by the 1930s. Most of the unpublished work by Georgia Johnson was lost, as most of her papers were thrown away after her funeral." Text from Buzzle.
Jessie Redmon Fauset
Source: www.afropoets.net
"Jessie Redmon Fauset was born in 1882 in New Jersey. She grew up in Philadelphia and considered herself an O.P. (Old Philadelphian), a term denoting the equivalent of Social Register breeding for African Americans. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell in 1905—as one of the first, if not the first, black women to attend that university—she taught French at Washington's Dunbar High School. She received a master's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania in 1919 and moved to New York that same year. Fauset worked closely with W. E. B. DuBois as literary editor of the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, and served as editor of another NAACP publication, Brownie's Book, a much-praised children's magazine. From her editorial perch, Fauset became a central force in the Renaissance, nurturing and encouraging many young writers." Text from Poets.org.
Zora Neale Hurston
Source: biography.com
"Born in Alabama on January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston spent her early adulthood studying at various universities and collecting folklore from the South, the Caribbean and Latin America. She published her findings in Mules and Men. Hurston was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, rubbing shoulders with many of its famous writers. In 1937, she published her masterwork of fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, among several others. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings. Around this time, Hurston experienced a few early literary successes, including placing in short-story and playwriting contests in Opportunity magazine." Text from biography.com.
Angelina Weld Grimké
Source: afropoets.net
"Grimké was born into a prominent biracial family of abolitionists and civil-rights activists; the noted abolitionists Angelina and Sarah Grimké were her great-aunts, and her father was the son of a wealthy white aristocrat and a slave. She graduated from the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1902 and subsequently became an English teacher in Washington, D.C., supplementing her education with summer courses at Harvard University. In the early 1900s Grimké began to write articles and poems to express her concern about racism and the plight of blacks in America. Her play Rachel, produced in 1916 and published in 1920, concerns a young woman who is so horrified by racism that she vows never to bring children into the world. Although the play is considered to be overly sentimental and was criticized for its defeatism, it was one of the first plays written by a black author about black issues." Text from britannica.com.
Augusta Savage
Source: biography.com
"Augusta Savage was a great sculptor who had to struggle to get recognition for her art due to the barriers of race and sex. She had sculpted the busts of African-American leader, W.E.B. DuBois, for a New York Public Library branch. She also sculpted the bust of Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglass, James Weldon Johnson, W.C. Handy, and others. Her piece 'Gamin' brought her recognition and she won a scholarship from Julius Rosenwald Foundation, which helped fund for her study in Europe in 1930. In 1937, the Harlem Community Art Center appointed her as its first director. In 1939, she opened her own gallery. She was commissioned to sculpt pieces based on James Weldon Johnson's Lift Every Voice and Sing for the 1939 New York World's Fair. Only a few photos of her exhibits remain, as the pieces were destroyed after the fair." Text from buzzle.com.
Bessie Smith
Source: biography.com
"Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ma Rainey, the famous blues singer, supported Bessie during her early career. After completing her tour of the South, she moved to New York City in 1923. Her deep, expressive voice had remarkable intensity and power. She recorded with leading jazz musicians including Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, and Benny Goodman. She became a popular blues singer and was reported to earn $2,000 a week, during her time. She lost most of her fan following to radio and Hollywood movie music. She became an alcoholic, but still managed to fulfill her singing assignments. Bessie was killed in a car crash in Clarksdale, Mississippi." Text from buzzle.com.
 "Ma" Rainey
Source: biography.com
"Gertrude "Ma" Raineyfemale-centered urban blues of the 1920s. Walking on stage, she made an incredible impression before she even began singing, with her thick straightened hair sticking out all over, her huge teeth capped in gold, an ostrich plume in her hand, and a long triple necklace of shining gold coins sparkling against her sequined dress. The gravelly timbre of her contralto voice, with its range of only about an octave, enraptured audiences wherever she went. She generally sang without melodic embellishment, in a raspy, deep voice that had an emotional appeal for listeners." Text from www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.

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Alexis Jackson is a student studying Creative Writing and Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University. You can reach her at alexis@forharriet.com and follow her @_alexisjacks.

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