Imagination and Poetry at the Juncture of African Heritage and Western Tradition

Creative Commons License

Yay İ. C.

9th Eurasian Conference on Economics and Social Sciences, Girne, Cyprus (Kktc), 5 - 07 May 2023, pp.82

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Girne
  • Country: Cyprus (Kktc)
  • Page Numbers: pp.82
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


The present study focuses on the selected poetry of the Harlem Renaissance period to assert that although the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was an intense arena of socio-cultural upheavals, ideological controversies, and artistic divisions within the African-American intelligentsia, the period has quintessentially been distinguished as the fertile grounds for the culmination of contemporary African-American arts, literature and music. By referring to seminal intellectuals and poets of the period, be they in favor of their own unique folkloric roots and literary idiosyncrasies that root back in Africa, or of the white mainstream practices, long-embedded in the Western canon, the present study seeks to analyze the prolific influence of this equivocal phenomenon in African-American history.

In order to trace such line of argument, the study initially foregrounds the key cultural terms of double-consciousness, the veil image, and the talented-tenth concept devised by the renowned intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, and poet Paul Dunbar’s image of the mask; and then discusses these concepts through a reading of a selection of poems produced in that era.

The selection of poems encompasses a variety of artists to analyze the two opposing attitudes of African-American stance in creating art. While one camp, holds firmly on the African heritage and roots to structure a unique and authentic “Black” identity separate from Western tradition; the other camp believes in the “Art for Art’s Sake” motto, to exclude politics and ideologies from their artistic craft. Thus, poems by Claude McKay, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Jean Toomer have been scrutinized to portray both facets of the Harlem Renaissance era, which conjointly prepared the grounds for the contemporary achievements in African American arts and literature.