In the early twentieth century Black creatives were America’s artistic vanguard.
In the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, African Americans created new platforms to promote their work and learned to navigate white gatekeepers who controlled America’s publishing and cultural industries.
At the forefront of this movement, women were among its most radical thinkers: as playwrights, poets, novelists and artists such as Gwendolyn Bennett and Nella Larsen, they explored new ways of thinking about motherhood, sexuality, bodily autonomy and racial violence.
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A lecture by Kate Dossett recorded on 5 October 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/women-harlem
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If any, have a song to sing that's different from the rest. Oh, let them sing to us would Gwenlynn Bennett, 1924. Gwendolyn Bennett stands poised to deliver her glorious call to song. The Night is March 21st, 1924. The venue, the Civic Club in New York City. And the occasion a party Bennett has organized with Regina Andrews to celebrate the publication of Jesse Faucet's first novel. There is confusion initiated by and for women creatives. The evening will come to be remembered as the party that launched the literary careers of a younger group of male writers. This was no accident hosted by Charles Johnson, editor of the journal opportunity alongside Howard University, professor Elaine Locke, who served as Toastmaster for the evening. The occasion was repurposed towards a different end. Locke had written to Johnson in advance of the party seeking reassurance that quote, the event was not to feature Jesse FST Johnson obliged the purpose of the evening. He explained was to present the newest school of writers and he flattered Locke by calling him the dean of this younger group. The conversations that took place that night between black writers and white publishers led to a special edition of the magazine, survey Graphic in March, 1925, Expanded the same year to a book length collection called The New Negro and also edited by Locke. Together these two anthologies have come to define the Harla Renaissance featuring poems, essay, short fiction and artwork by some of the movements shining stars, including Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Zoran Hurston, and Jean Tumor. These two volumes have come to be seen as the foundation stones of the Harlo Renascence, and yet they capture only a partial view of the movement. Women are poorly represented across the two publications. Just four of the 24 contributors to the survey graphic and only eight of the 40 authors featured in the new Negro are women. And yet, even when they were pushed to its margins, women understood themselves to be at the very heart of the movement. We now call the Harlem Renaissance. Concentrated in the neighborhood of Harlem in upper Manhattan. African American artists at the time often referred to the increased opportunities for publication, exhibition and performance in the 1920s as the new Negro movement, not only in New York City, but in Boston, Chicago, and in Washington dc Black artists found new audiences for their work. In the years following World War I, women did not experience access to these new platforms on equal terms, and the rewards were seldom distributed evenly. The networks and structures that supported our artistic production by men often held back the careers of women. Women were less likely to win prizes, fellowships, and publishing contracts with prestige presses. And when they did, they were often subject to critical reviews that judge their work through a set of criteria designed to reward the creativity of white men. Alongside the structural issues, though were the much harder to quantify, but also devastating assortment of slights and oversights, the invitations that never arrived, the sneering attitude towards work that addressed quote unquote women's issues. And all of this made it difficult for women to achieve and sustain careers as writers and artists, and yet they did. And so in the talk this evening, I want to consider why women's voices have become so hard for us to hear. Now I'm interested in how access to an interpretation of the hala renaissance continues to be framed through the gendered and racialized hierarchies established and maintained by powerful knowledge producing institutions, and in particular the role of archives and publishing. But I'm also interested in the different practical and intellectual strategies that black women have developed to keep their work visible and valued. So to explore this, I'm going to focus today on two important writers who have really different publishing and archival legacies. Jesse. Jesse Faucet was the most published novelist of the movement writing four novels between 1924 and 1933. She also played a central role in developing new artists as the literary editor of the crisis. The Journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples or NAACP and the Crisis was one of the leading sponsors of new work by black creatives during the Hala Renaissance. In addition, faucet also hosted a literary salon at her Harlem home, creating a space for black artists to gather away from the gaze of white voyeurs. Her friend, Gwendolyn Bennett was a poet, an artist whose poems and illustrations were per first published by Jesse Faucet. In the Crisis, Bennett went on to write a literary column for opportunity, another important publication for black artists. And in her column, the Ebony flute, she promoted and discussed the latest trends in black arts. Unlike the volumes edited by Elone Locke in collaboration with white presses and editors, which overwhelmingly failed favored male writers, nearly half of the poems and short stories published in the crisis and the opportunity between 1918 and 1931 were by women. The careers of these two women then I think really helped to underline that women were not on the margins of the Harlo renascence. In fact, they played a really important role in defining what it was. But the ways in which their work was preserved through publication and in archives continues to shape their legacy today. Before I turn to Jesse Faucet and Gwendolyn Bennett, I think it's worth pausing to look at how our knowledge of and access to the Harlo Renascence has evolved over the last century. The literature of the Harlo Renascence was mostly outta print and outta sight by the 1950s. And its recovery was really slow. It was inspired in part by the black arts movement, the cultural movement that was an integral part of the black freedom struggle from the mid 1960s to the 19 mid 1970s in the United States, the first wave of recovery work produced a very particular version of the Harla Re Renaissance One, which privileged the work of certain black male writers who could be aligned with a radical black aesthetic. Amiri Baraka, the Black dramatist and most prominent spokesperson for the Black Hearts movement, wrote an essay in 1979 called The Revolutionary Tradition. In Afro-American literature, this revolutionary tradition he argued could be traced through the slave narratives, the Civil War and the Haah Renaissance. Viewing the Haah Renaissance as a literature of revolt, he singled out the work of three radical thinkers, W B E Du Bois, Langner Hughes, and McKay Women did not feature. It took years of scholarship by black feminist scholars, including Cheryl Wool, Maureen Honey, Barbara Christian, Gloria Hole, Deborah McDowell, Carolyn Slanda, Claudia Tate, Mary Helen Washington, Nelly McKay, and Horten Spillers among many others. Before work by women began to appear on American university programs and on publishers lists. In the 1980s and 1990s, black feminist scholars not only recovered much of this work, they also developed new models for understanding what was in innovative and even radical about women's writing in the Harlem Re Renaissance. And to do this, they had to change the academy, an academy which had so long ignored and patronized, uh, women writers, but also women's scholars. They developed black women's literature and history courses, published anthologies of women's work and studies of individual writers like the women they're writing about. Much of this work was published by Small rather than by prestigious presses, but it was also a project much bigger than the academy. A project of great importance to a new generation of writers who, like Alice Walker, were in search of their mother's gardens. Alice Walker played a particularly prominent and important role in the recovery of the novelist folk Loist and dramatist Zoran Hurston first bringing her to new audiences through her 1975 essay, which was published in this magazine. A much of Hurston's early recovery focused on her 1937 novel. Their eyes were watching God. Their Eyes is a coming of age story that follows the dreams and sexual awakening of Janie Crawford, the granddaughter of an enslaved woman as she navigates the Jim Crow South. Today, it is part of the canon. Hurston is the best known novelist of the Harla Renascence. Their eyes is regularly reissued a core text on American literature courses in Britain and the United States. It's also the subject of thousands of undergraduate dissertations, of journal articles, of blog posts, podcasts, and academic monographs In its own time, however, it wasn't recognized in this way. Richard writes, the famous author of Native Son published a scathing review of Hurston's book, lamenting its quote, facile sensuality, a trait he traced back to the 18th century black poet Phyllis Wheatley. He accused Hurston of willingly adopting the minstrel mask to make the white folks laugh. It was, he claimed a novel with no theme, no message, no thought, Their eyes were watching. God sold fewer than 5,000 copies and fell outta print. And he has taken an a list of writers and celebrities to recover and keep Hurston in the present, including Alice Walker and Oprah Winfrey, a more recently Jackie K and Zadie Smith, among others. If this sustained effort has enabled Hurston to remain visible, others have not been so fortunate. While Hurston's writing about Southern folk has come to stand in for the quote unquote authentic black experience, the road to recovery has been less available to those who wrote about the upwardly mobile urban experience. What the scholar, Andy Silk calls the bourgeois blues. So this brings us to Jesse Fawcett, one of the most published authors of the Halo Re Renaissance. She wrote essays, poems, short form fiction, as well as novels during the peak years of the movement. Her legacy is mostly preserved in her published work and in the personal papers of the famous men with whom she corresponded and who have archives in their own right faucet has no archive of her own faucet's. Literary work explores the intersection of gender, class, and racial identity in early 20th century America, and in particular, the experiences of black women, her fiction centers, the concerns of the modern educated working woman, how to find a fulfilling job in a racist and sexist society. How to express one's creativity without self-censorship. To find love and sexual satisfaction, to take pride in racial identity whilst navigating the restrictive codes of black femininity police by both men and women along the way. Faucet explores the structures that underpin white supremacy in the United States, and she considers the possibilities of love across racial boundaries in a segregated society. Perhaps most controversially of all. In her final novel comedy, American style faucet turns to the sensitive topic of colorism within black communities. Faucet's work was praised by some of the leading lights of the renascence, W e b Du Bois, her one-time mentor and colleague at the Crisis. And Langston Hughes, who she had mentored and published as a young poet, were both full of warm praise. Many others, however, both in private and in public, dismissed her work as inauthentic, overly concerned with the preoccupations of middle class women. She was often called the Jane Austen of her day. Reviewing her first book, there is Confusion for the New Republic. The Caribbean writer Eric Warren called it mediocre, A work of puny painstaking labor. Her outlook on life, he complained privately to his friend. The poet county Coen was too petty and bourgeois, the poet called McKay, similarly merged his critique of faucet's personality and work into one in his 1937 autobiography. A long way from home writing that quote, Ms. Faucet is dainty as a primrose. Her novels are quite as fastidious and precious male reviewers of faucet's work often missed the more or less masked critiques within her work. For example, faucet's second novel plumb Bum explores the artistic career and search for community by Angela Murray. Angela is a light-skinned African-American artist who moves to New York to develop her career. And whilst there she passes for white in order to access the opportunities routinely denied to black women. PBA has this rather brilliant tongue in cheek scene in which Angela and her white lover, a rather inadequate but wealthy white man, finally gets it together on a stormy nights. And you know, there's all the tropes of the sort of cliched romantic scene. Um, and we can really hear in this scene that Jesse Fawcetts laughing at the kind of romance that women are expected to enjoy, consume, and write. By the time Faucet publishes her third novel, the China Breach Tree in 1931, she's had enough of these patronizing reviews, and she's particularly enraged by a review that's published by Elaine Locke, a man who deliberately held a spotlight from her, her launch party in 1924. And he publishes a review, uh, in 1932, um, in which he declares her work to be slowly maturing. Foster Faucet kept her polite demeanor no more, and she confronted Log Locke in a stinging letter, which you can see pictured here. She accused him of being the archetypal critic, a self-knowledge failure as a writer who had set himself up to criticize those who are all possessed of the creative art faucet was especially critical of Locke's position as a gatekeeper to white patrons accusing him in her letter of subscribing to the school of whatever is white is right Locke, she claimed preferred to play it safe because of his considerable debt to the grand White folks. And in as part of this letter, she goes on to say, I've always known, we all of us knew that you deliberately tried to keep the spotlight from a party that was organized by my friends to celebrate my first book. And she concludes by saying, I'm not the only person who feels this way about you. And it turns out she was right. Zo Halston confided to her friend James Weldon Johnson, that Elaine Leroy Leroy Locke is a malicious, spiteful little snot that thinks he ought to be, uh, the leader of African Americans because of his degrees foiled in that he spends his time trying to cut the ground from under everybody else. So far as the younger writers are concerned, he runs a mental pawn shop. He lends out his patronage and takes in ideas, which he soon passes off as his own. Fawcett and Hurston are likely alluding both to Locke's role as an intermediary between black artists and white publishers, but also to his relationship with Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy white New York socialite who loved so-called primitive art. Locke brokered a number of financial relationships between Charlotte Mason and her proteges, including Zo Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay. Mason's deeply problematic notions of black art and her willingness to use her financial clout to pressure her, her black artists to meet her vision, um, caused a near breakdown for some of her proteges, particularly for Langston Hughes. Whilst Hurston's rather playful handling of the older woman caused many to accuse her both at the time and later of wearing the minstrel mask, faucets by contrast, was really wary of the influence exerted by white patrons on black artists. When she was struggling to get her first novel published in 19 25, 1 white publisher had told her White readers just don't expect black people to be like this faucet, however, resisted these pressures in her work, but her, her reception then and now has harmed her visibility and legacy. For much of the 20th century faucet's, novels were outta print, and even her short stories, poems, essays and reviews, which were published in the crisis now happily available through Google Books and various other digitization projects. For much of the 20th century, the crisis was only really accessible to those who had access to a good research library. Instead, faucet came to be celebrated not as an intellectual, a thinker, and as a creative, but as a midwife, a nurturer, someone who helps support the work and reputation of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and County Colen on the road to literary fame. And this reputation is amplified by the testimony and archives of the men she supported. There is no faucet archive, and our access to faucet behind the scenes then is always filtered through the men who have archival collections of their own. In the 21st century faucet's, writing is slowly becoming more accessible. In the last decade, Dover Publications Random House and Beacon Press have reprinted her novels. It's really striking that the Dover reprints of her novels between 2013 and 2020 continue to categorize them as something called domestic fiction. By contrast, the recent Random House edition of there is confusion published in 2020 tags. Faucet's first novel as social problem fiction. We might question whether the transition from domestic to social problem is a mark of progress for black women writers. But the release of the Random House edition as an ebook in its series called Modern Library Torch Bearers, is putting black women writers of the halo renaissance out there as never before. So I want to compare the career reception and legacy of Jesse FoST with that of her friend Gwendolyn Bennett. Bennett was a poet, a writer, and an artist. She was also an educator and an activist in histories of the Haah Renaissance. She's most often mentioned as a poet and illustrator of the crisis and of opportunity, as well as, as the author of a literary column for Opportunity, which she wrote for two years between 1926 and 1928, called the Ebony Flute. Bennett was also a very accomplished artist. She studied in Paris and taught fine arts at the prestigious Howard University in Washington dc. In contrast to Faucet Bennett's published outputs is slim. She published around 20 poems and a number of illustrations in journals, but she never had a collected volume of her poetry published. Unfortunately, most of her artwork was destroyed in the fire at her stepmother's home, while the majority of the poems that she wrote in the 1930s, many of which addressed themes of social injustice were never published in her lifetime. However, unlike Faucet, much of her unpublished writing is preserved in the archive that she carefully collected throughout her life. And large parts of this archive are now accessible through a published collection of her writing called Heron of the Harlo Renaissance and beyond. Bennett was unable and sometimes unwilling to publish her poetry in the 1930s, and yet she never stopped writing. Instead, she found ways to express, communicate, and preserve her radical thought. During these years, through the careful curation of her personal and professional archive, the Gwendolyn Bennett papers are now at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, and they document Bennett's development as an artist from her teenage diary from the 1910s all the way through to her unpublished poems and essays from the 1930s and 1940s. Intriguingly Bennett's own archive appears to be in conversation with another shadow Archive one preserved in the US National Archive and Records administration. Bennett's F b I file documents another version of her career. And in the final part of this talk, I want to consider how Bennett's archival practice in the thirties and forties offers us another way of thinking, a way of thinking, not just about the relationship between the arch archive and publishing, but of archiving as a radical black tradition. On the 14th of April, 1939, Bennett attended a dinner at the Harlem Y M C A. The dinner was to honor James W. Ford, The highest ranking black communist in the United States. Ford had twice served as the American Communist Party party's candidate for the vice presidency of the United States. While others were making speeches in honor of Ford, Bennett was busy writing a poem which she would perform and dedicate to Ford that same evening. The event was captured in a photograph published by the local black newspaper, the New York Amsterdam News. And I think you can actually, you can actually make out Bennett, she's, um, sitting, uh, to the right on your side, um, perhaps scribbling down the poem that she's about to perform. The poem entitled, the Leader Allows Bennett to pay homage not to the charismatic masculine orator of the public square, but to the subversive leader, one practiced in Dissemblance in order to continue the struggle for quote the things that jointly they believe. It is a really interesting and even radical poem for it names and discusses a form of leadership which seeks to bring about a fundamental restructuring of America while protecting the black community. Susan Willis calls this specifying or name calling an oral made black women use to engage radical ideas while attending to the need to avoid surveillance. And I think, um, there's many really interesting things about this poem, but then it's really trying to move away from the idea that activism and leadership is about standing in a public square, of putting yourself out there, being a charismatic performer. She's celebrating a different kind of leadership, one that's about mobilizing people within their communities and giving them the inner strength, uh, to carry on, uh, working for change. And I think this is a real challenge to some of the prevailing gendered ideas about leadership, both in the 1930s, um, and perhaps in our own time too. Bennett's poem then is about the need to sometimes be careful to sometimes avoid surveillance. And Bennett herself needed to avoid surveillance. In 1938, Bennett had been accused of communist affiliation by the House and American Activities Committee and subject to a loyalty investigation by the government agency who employed her as director of the Harlem Community Arts Center. The investigators employed by, by her employer called Bennet to a hearing, and they put it to her that she had been present at a dinner given for Ford and sat at the speaker's table. As, as we know, as was published in a local newspaper, Bennett denied many of the charges that were put to her during the loyalty investigation, but she continuously refused to answer. When asked if she had been present at this dinner, I think it's really striking that even as Bennett refused to confirm her presence at this dinner to her interrogators, she took pains to document her attendance in her own record of the event. Through her archive, Bennett found a way to catalog context, contextualize and signal the importance and coherence of her 1930s poems within this collection. In her archive, the leader is organized together with a series of other unpublished poems, including the overtly political of Spain, the Hungry Ones, and Wise Guys. Each of these poems is typed out in identical type script. Some include annotations written in Bennett's hand, which add context and commentary on the poem's significance to its author. For example, a note on the type script of the leader explains this poem was written for and read at the dinner given for James W. Ford at the y I got the idea for it while hearing the office and wrote it on a slip of paper all during the other speeches. Unbelievable but true, I dedicated it to him. Bennett's careful preservation of the leader is a bold coder to her earlier refusal to be present as the scholar Brian Donnar has pointed out. The very act of keeping this poem during and beyond the peak of American anti-communism is notable. Many writers and artists destroyed work that's associated them with radical movements in the 1930s and forties. Bennett we know, thought very deeply about the written record, how it could capture, expose, hide, and communicate a vision for radical change. And this led her to develop her own archiving practice to preserve her radical legacy, whilst also thinking about how to evade capture by the Agents and archives of surveillance. In 1941, the F B I opens a file on Gwendolyn Bennett. We have access to these files because of the work of scholars who have filed freedom of information requests to the F B I over very many years, the scholar William Maxwell, whose website you see here has been especially dogged in pursuing the F B I files on black artists, which he has made accessible through this website. One of Maxwell's really remarkable discoveries was the establishment of what he calls a ghost bureau, a network of agents employed by F B I director, F b i, director Jay Edgar Hoover, to read the work of black authors. This entailed not just surveillance of their activities, but careful study of the revolutionary potential of their work. Um, and Maxwell's work conjures this really extraordinary image of these self-taught literary critics, um, trying to keep up with all the latest publications by black writers through the Har Renaissance into the 1940s, trying to ascertain what might, uh, mobilize the masses to volt of the 50 subject files on black authors that Maxwell put in requests for and was able to obtain. F B I files on just eight of those 50 world women. Interestingly, Gwendolyn Bennett was deemed a particular threat. She was placed on a register of enemies. This meant that the Bureau monitored her mobility, her employment, and her personal life up until 1955. In the event of a national emergency, Bennett's citizenship rights, including the right not to be detained unlawfully or indefinitely could be withdrawn. However, unlike many of her male peers who were placed under surveillance, Bennett's creative work was of little interest to Hoover's army of literary critics. F b I reports on Bennett instead, focused on her connections to radical leftist groups, especially the political affiliations of her white husband. And I think it's really interesting how this archive of surveillance, a bit like some of the early histories of the Hare Renaissance, are really interested in the role that women play as, um, connects connectors, people who connect people to each other, who nurture people, um, who host salons. So they're quite interested in how they make things happen, and often less interest in their intellectual and creative work in its own right. And I think the F B I files are really interesting when we come to think about women of the Harlo Renascence, the F B I files constitutes a different kind of archive to the usual writer's archive that are collected by libraries. The F B I files are an archive of surveillance with information collected involuntarily and sometimes unknowingly, but it has much in common with these other archives which document the work of the Halo Renascence for It too overwhelmingly focuses on the creative work of men. After about a decade of surveillance by the F B I, uh, Bennett knows Falwell that she's under surveillance. Um, the Bureau decides to interview her to invite her to contribute to her own surveillance. So on the way to work, one Morning, Bennett was intercepted by two F B I agents who identified themselves and posed a series of questions to her about her political affiliations. Her response as documented in her F B I file is worth quoting as it suggests. Not only that had she long been aware of the bureau's interest in her, but that she too is watching them. So this is from the reports. Uh, the agents say she repeatedly stated that she had no information about herself or her husband, that the F B I does not already have. When advised that she wasn't in a position to know the extent of the information in the Bureau, she merely repeated her original statement that she was sure she had no information not already in the bureau's possession. Bennett's insistence that she was sure might be understood as an example of what the scholar Simone Brown calls dark surveillance. Dark surveillance is a way of quote, enhancing the ability of people to access and collect data about their surveillance in order to render themselves outta sight. But it also allows people to create spaces from which to critique and resist anti-black surveillance. Dark surveillance is part of black people's lived experience drawn from watching those in authority, but also from black people's long history of resisting enslavement. Um, and the examples Brown gives are, um, historic examples of, um, enslaved people pretending to be free, forging freedom papers, and sometimes just simply walking away. Gwendolyn Bennett terminated her interview with F B I interrogators by walking away, and the F B I agents report this. They say, um, any further efforts to persuade Bennett to contribute to her own surveillance file would be futile. Um, they didn't really know what to do when Bennett walked away from them on a busy Manhattan street. The making visible and subsequent recovery of the legacies of women under the Harla Renaissance has taken many different forms. While Bennett's poems from the 1930s were not published in her time, she was able to preserve her radical legacy through her own archive. It took nearly a hundred years, but she now has a published collection of her work. By Contrast Faucet was one of the most published novelists of the Hana Renaissance, but the reception of her work at the time and the subsequent categorization of her as a writer of domestic fiction made her less visible, sometimes hidden in plain sight. At other times, women remove themselves from view in order to evade capture, but their silence should not be confused with erasure. As Bennett writes in her 1924 poem, which was published a few years later in 1927, called Your Songs, silence is a sounding thing to one who listens, hungrily, women have long found ways to keep each other's work visible. Sometimes this is required speaking even while their platform is being taken away. And so let us return to the evening in 1924 when Bennett is waiting and waiting for her turn to deliver her poem to us Oxford, to mark the publication of Faucet's first book. She has to wait until the very end, until all the other male speakers have made their speeches. And until Faucet has finally been out to say a few words herself, but eventually the platform is hers. Bennett uses it to celebrate those with songs to sing that are different from the rest. This ode to Black Creativity, she dedicates to Jesse Faucet, who will publish it in the next edition of the Crisis. A century later, another poet stands waiting to sing this time on a larger stage. Amanda Gorman, America's first national youth poet, celebrated the legacy of those who had gone before her when she delivered the hill. We climb at the inauguration of the 46th American President and of the first woman and first person of color to hold the office of the vice presidency in January 9th, 2021. Gorman's poem reminds us of her nation's imperfect past and in uncertain future, but hers is also a poem of hope filled with confidence that change can happen if only we are brave enough to see it. Wearing a ring gifted by Oprah Winfrey with a caged bird symbolizing a previous in Gore poet, mayor Angelou Gorman dedicates her poem to the Women who Have Climbed My Heels before. Thank you, Kate. Thank you. That was an absolutely fascinating lecture and we've got some questions coming through and if you've got any questions from the floor here, um, please be sort of having a think about them. Hopefully we should, we should get a microphone through in a moment. But I'm gonna start off by saying, um, wow, that was incredibly so much to think about there. I'm particularly interested in this idea of there being not just the kind of, um, sort of blocks put on women by by men, uh, within the black community and the wider community, but also this idea that what they're trying to work out through their writing and through their wider activities is this other form of politics that was also perhaps hard for people to understand because it was not what they were used to. It was not standing in the public square. Um, perhaps you could say a few more words about this sort of other form of politics and how actually the writing, um, reflects that. And thank you, Sophie. That's a really interesting question, I think not least because many of the sort of manifesto pieces that, uh, were published in the two volumes, the survey Graphic and the new Negro collection in 1925, many of the essays in there are directly addressing that question. So they're asking, you know, what is the role and purpose of black culture should all art be propaganda? Um, w e Du Bois famously says, all art is propaganda. I don't give a damn for any art that isn't, um, Elaine Locke and others are a bit more nervous about this, right? They don't like the idea that black artists should always be trying to teach people that they shouldn't have the freedoms to write, um, and express themselves about anything they want to. So some of the essays, the sort of manifesto pieces in these two volumes edited by Eileen Lock, are really, um, expressing those different viewpoints. I think when it comes to, um, the role of women, both how they talk about this in their non-fiction pieces, but also how they express their response to this important question about art and propaganda in their own literary work is really interesting because they're very aware that this idea of the new Negro, this is the term that's used and embraced to celebrate the movement at the time, that this is a very masculine vision to be, to be a new Negro, is to be militant, is to cast off the shackles of the 19th century and enslavement. Um, and to celebrate as Langston Hughes says in his famous essay, the Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain, to celebrate ourselves to not be beholden, uh, to white ideals of black arts. And women challenge this in very many ways through the crisis, through the opportunity and through their own creative work, because their version of what it is to cast off the shackles of the past might look very different that of one of their male colleagues. Okay, Brilliant. I'm gonna go, um, to a question from, um, online. First, uh, what did the social network look like for women in the Harlem Re renaissance? Was it interconnected? Was it supportive? Uh, that's such a great question. Um, and there is a really vibrant and exciting network of women, um, really down the northeast coast. So in New York City, Jesse faucets at the heart of it, she has this literary salon in Washington DC Georgia, Douglas Johnson, a very well known playwright, some poets in her own rights. She hosts something called her Saturday Nighters where she invites lots of women and men. Elaine Lock often goes Langston Hughes, uh, other poets and artists who are passing through town. Um, so there's this, this network along the northeast coast of, uh, women and men, but often driven by women who serve this function that women artists have often served as the hostess of, uh, literary salons. There's this lovely, um, letter between, uh, Jesse Faucet and Georgia Douglas Johnson. So Jesse Fawcett's visited, um, her friend, the playwright in Washington, and, uh, she's returned back to New York and she writes a letter to Georgia Douglas Johnson, which is partly about her work, about important themes of their, their shared endeavors. But she also writes to say, could you please send me back that, um, cold cream that I left at your house? And she says, I know you'll look at it and there'll be a tiny little squeeze left at the bottom, but it's expensive, it's important to me, and it's of no value to anyone else. And I think what that really captures is both the extent to which, um, these women often dubbed as middle class and therefore inauthentic, um, actually are not far removed from facing real poverty when it comes to things like healthcare when it comes to, you know, being more than a paycheck away from not being able to pay their rent. Um, their employment opportunities are really limited. And I think actually that feeds into some of the legacy issues that I talked about in the lecture. Um, and in particular the fact that many of these women, Zo Neil Hurston included dime real poverty with an unmarked, uh, uh, uh, gravestone. Um, so I think the networks are very much there. They are supporting each other. Uh, women often stay in each other's houses when they're traveling, not least to avoid, um, uh, not being able to access, you know, segregated accommodation. But I think the social networks, the ones that also span across time, so whether it's a Alice Walker or or Jackie K or the many brilliant black feminist scholars who have recovered the work of these women, I think, uh, there's a real sense that that network is one that stretches beyond each generation in, in search of our mother's gardens, as Alice Walker puts it in her book of that title. Mm-hmm. Fantastic. What do you see as Nella Larson's role in the Harlem Renaissance, particularly she's now appearing on US and UK curricula? Yeah, great question. It's a great question. And I, I thought about chatting about Nella Larsson in this lecture, and I thought, I bet actually Nella Larsen and Zo Hurston will probably be the two writers that anyone that's heard of a woman writer of the Hall Renaissance might, might be familiar with. And one of the reasons for that is both Hurston, I think in 2005, had their eyes of watching God made into a film, uh, with Oprah Winfrey's production company. Um, and Nella Larson, many of you may be familiar or perhaps would like to go and watch, um, Rebecca Hall's, uh, film adaptation of her work, which became, uh, really accessible, I guess because Netflix took it up. Um, I think Nella Larsen is a writer with a really complex legacy, partly 'cause she writes about, uh, passing, she writes about light-skinned African-American women and how they search for community, um, and the difficulties of finding that community within either black or white communities. Um, so I think, uh, Larson's a really important figure at the time, um, for our own society. She addresses really important issues of our mixed race identity, and she really challenges this idea of authentic black culture. So her two novels, passing and quicksand in very different ways, explore, uh, what it means to have a black identity, who is able to access it. Um, what does it mean if you leave aspects of a black identity that somebody else has constructed for you? What if you leave parts of that behind to pursue something that doesn't neatly conform to that? And what is the role of, um, a colorism within that? Um, I think Nella Larson's that the film version of Nella Larson ha has certainly, um, made her more popular writer, a more accessible writer. Um, and as, as a university teacher who teaches a Harlem Re Renaissance and has taught this as a course at the University of Leeds for many years, um, I'm really struck by how many more dissertations actually there are being written on by Nella Larson because people have this, um, sort of way of entering into it. And one other thing I sort of noticed came through very strongly in what you were saying, um, was this idea of not just the history of these women, but the historiography, like how we remember certain people, how we don't, what are the mechanisms by which certain people become invisible and certain others become, um, marginalized or invisible. And then the interesting thing, you were, another interesting thing you were talking about is the extent to which invisibility was a survival strategy as well for these women and controlling visibility and invisibility very carefully. I'm gonna ask the horrible question. How do you as a historian go about sort of, well, kind of knowing what you're looking for in the first place and then finding it and giving it the appropriate sort of traditional footnotes that satisfy the kind of our traditional kind of academic cultures. How, how do you, how do you even go about starting that? Such a, such an interesting question Just to pick up on the first part of it about visibility and invisibility. I guess one of the things that I was trying to communicate was the fact that, um, actually these women aren't all victims of horrible male histography and historical writing, right? Um, I mean, they might be partly that at times, but they have agency and they are careful to protect how they're written about. This is why Jesse Fst writes to Elaine Locke nine years later after that launch party. She's still absolutely steaming and she finally has to let him know that she knows, not just that she knows, but everyone she knows knows that he stole that moment from her. So I think there's the private behind the scenes act. You know, this is an activist letter. This is a letter saying, um, you don't get to control this, you don't get to control what that moment nine years ago was about. Um, I think like any researcher, whether they're a formally trained historian or, um, browsing Google and trying to find interesting people, uh, people from their community who might speak to them, I think we are all often overwhelmed by the sense that there aren't records in the past, right? That the only records of those preserved by traditionally male, white university libraries, archives, and publishers. And although, as I've shown tonight, that is certainly one narrative. I think sometimes that narrative can hide things from us that we don't expect to find records. And so we don't go looking for them. We, um, we look at Jesse Fawcett's published work, which went out of print, but we don't think to look for, um, you know, that correspondence that she has with W b Du Bois, with Elaine Locke and those few women that do have archives of their own. So I suppose one thing I I often think about when I embark on new research projects or when I talk to students, is actually we need to not ever assume that there's no written record. And we also need to be careful of thinking that written records are the only records. Um, and that I think even though the Halo Renascence was a hundred years ago, there are people in the community in Harlem, you know, across the African diaspora who have parents and aunts and great aunts who knew these people, who knew Orel Hurston. And that's what Alice Walker does, right? When she goes in search of Zora ne Hurston, she goes and finds people who knew her, and she gets a very different sense of this woman than the version of her that we'd get from the written record. Fantastic. Um, got a great question here. How would you describe the influence of Harlem Renaissance of the Harlem Renaissance movement on feminism in general? That's a big question. Um, feminism in general, where to start? Um, I mean, I suppose one interesting thing is that the Harlem Renaissance is happening just as, uh, women get the right to vote in the us or just as some women in the US get the right to vote. So white women have been enfranchised by the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which is finally passed and active from 1920. And actually many of the women writers that I'm talking about write about this quite a lot. Um, the women living in New York, women such as Jesse FoST would've voted and were active in politics. But for many African American women and women of color living in the South and in some other parts of the US too, they, as many people will know, they are disbarred from voting by local loopholes, um, which is one of the major, um, uh, causes and motivations of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s. Um, so in terms of the relationship between the Harlo re Renaissance and feminism, I think a lot of the women writers, and I've only touched on a few, there were very, very many who Jesse Fossett and Gwendolyn Bennett promote and publish in these two journals. The Crisis and the Opportunity, they have whole forums about women's right to vote. They have whole forums in these journals about whether women should be voting because they can bring their domestic experience of running a household budget or whether women should be allowed to vote because it's an inalienable, right? And women are human beings. So I think the Harlem Renaissance is happening at this moment when, um, a lot of people within this artistic community are thinking about what is a black identity that's forged by black artists rather than by white people and their stereotypes and caricatures of what it is to be black? What does it mean to be a black person living in America? But at the same time, many women of color are exploring, well, what does it mean to be a woman in the US when we've been newly enfranchised and yet we are not, and yet most black women in the US are still not voting. How did, uh, the feminism that the women of Har Harlem Renaissance, um, felt and resonated, um, differ from the feminism or the, or, uh, the feminism that the wom the white women of that time and that area, uh, felt, or they didn't feel Found in terms of, um, traditional censorship in terms of, um, the women of Harlem Renaissance, but also have you found any information of, um, self-censorship of the artists themselves? Mm-hmm.<affirmative>, Thank you. So the first question was thinking about the different ways in which women of color and white women engaged with, with feminism and, and feminist politics. Um, I think there are a number of, of of ways in which there, there are differences. Um, I mean, there are certain groups of women across the US and in New York in particular who are really interested in working across racial lines to campaign for the right to vote, but the right to vote. And the very long campaign that runs really through the 1830s and forties through to 1920 is a movement that's dominated by white women. And, um, by the early 20th century, it's a movement that really is making the case for enfranchising white women because it will help suppress the, the, the black vote, the vote of black men. So as many scholars have documented, the suffrage movement in the US is a very racist one. It is one that, um, divides women and in fact uses racist arguments in order to franchise white women. So that's a very difficult legacy for, um, women writers and, and, and, and all black women in the us. Um, but I think African American women are very, um, well aware that they will develop their own strategies, policies, and understandings of what it is to be enfranchised and what it is to be free. And they continue that work through the twenties and, you know, into the era of Ella Baker and Feni, Lou Hammer and various other, uh, uh, very prominent, uh, black feminist activists in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Um, the question about censorship is really interesting. Um, one of the reasons why many of the younger male artists like Langston Hughes and called McKay, quite like Jesse Faucet as literary editor, the crisis, is because they felt that she respected the integrity of their words and their work. And as anyone who's a writer here might know, not every editor is, um, always, uh, as conscientious or as, as dedicated to, uh, ensuring the artist's words come out as they want them to. Um, and in particular, uh, I think Cla McCain particular finds both Du Bois and Elaine, who he publishes work in various collections, that they edit really difficult editors. So they change titles of his poems, um, because they think they're quite inflammatory. So we know that Jesse FoST was very well respected as someone that didn't try and censor other people's work, which is very interesting given the reputation she's developed as this primm and proper politics of respectability type of middle class woman In terms of self-censorship, I think there is always going to be examples of that, um, and even recorded in the archives. So to think about Jesse FoST again, she's invited to translate, um, uh, a French novel, uh, by, uh, the writer Rene Moran, and she's fluent in French. She's a French teacher, in fact, uh, for part of her career. And she turns it down because she understands it's a brilliant novel. It's won a really important French literary prize. But she is very conscious that her reputation as a quote unquote respectable woman might be compromised if she translates this novel, which has some racy aspects that might perhaps not typically appear in her own work. So I think it's something that women of the Halo Renaissance are very, very conscious about. Um, Jesse Faucet, you know, has her work turned down by white publishers who say, well, you know, white audiences don't want to learn about middle class black Americans who have the same hopes, desires and fears as white Americans. Um, and I think Faucet isn't that only author who writes about this. So Neil Hurston writes a very famous essay about this as well, you know what, white publishers won't print. So I think it's something that both in private, in their correspondence with each other, but also sometimes in their published work we see women really engaging with and thinking about who, who gets to decide what is acceptable, um, even as they have these powerful roles as editors, the power to put others in print. Brilliant. Well, please join me in giving a really warm thank you to our speaker tonight.