When The Studio Museum in Harlem reopens its doors in the next few years after the major renovation currently underway, visitors will notice that the architectural focal interest chosen to convey the museum’s enduring connection with its environs is the iconic and endearing stoop. Of course the stoop as focal point and vernacular choice will serve other functions too, particularly since it is traditionally a convening, welcoming, and congregating space, where people have gathered to share various things—from ideas to gossip to cigarettes. But perhaps what elevating the stoop to a place of conspicuous distinction ultimately does is remind us that Harlem has always been and is still home to so many people.
Indeed Harlem Renaissance writers seemed to have a knack of portraying Harlem as an inviting space for black people and black art. Whether we hear that unsubtle messaging in the titles of Claude McKay’s novel Home to Harlem, Rudolph Fisher’s short story “The City of Refuge,” or the Survey Graphic magazine issue that started it all, “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro,” the association of Harlem with the idea of home means something not only to where these black artists think the creation of black art is most conducive but also to how they are able to create black art in the first place. What does it mean to need to feel at home in order to make black art or in order to feel that you are making it in community with others? What artistic function does it ultimately serve—what imaginative possibilities does it enable—to claim the hominess of Harlem as either an ideal or an actual reality? How does a combination of the spatial intimacy and the proprietary right alluded to in these titles, which effectively suggest that Harlem can be a city “of one’s own,” create a necessary condition for a new Negro movement? In other words, what does it mean to think of an entire city as an artistic movement’s headquarters—as its home base, as it were?
This special issue seeks to understand how “home” works as a thematic prompt in the creation of black art during the Harlem Renaissance. Questions to consider might include the following:
- How do fictions of home intentionally set their readers up for disappointment about the very concept of home, and what exactly does that kind of “gotcha” pedagogy ultimately teach us about the complicated relationship inherent in viewing Harlem, America, or the world as a home?
- How is the concept of home, along with the distinct variations on it, a call to artistic action or an artistic guiding principle?
- What does the archive of rent party advertisements, during this era, suggest about the creative marriage of form and function that artists employed in order to preserve a literal sense of home? What would a renewed appreciation and new analysis of this archive look like, especially in the context of gentrification in Harlem now?
- How does the idea of “home” as prompt evoke questions or free associations about the domestic sphere, the gendered politics of indoor and outdoor spaces, displacement, homelessness, safe spaces, danger zones, racial belonging, and spaces capable of being categorized as the so-called antithesis of home?
- To what extent did the invention of household appliances during the 1920s (e.g., the toaster, air conditioner, and refrigerator) inform the emphasis on representations of home in the cultural productions of the Harlem Renaissance?
We seek cogent, powerful, multidisciplinary essays that show passion for the claims being argued. Show us how your research transforms or unsettles our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance.
Dr. Deborah E. McDowell
Dr. Sandy Alexandre
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- Harlem Renaissance
- New Negro Movement
- artist enclaves
- rent parties