Kinamore: What purpose do you hope a book of this caliber will serve in the context of contemporary issues we face?
Aberjhani: Readers of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance should recognize that many of the issues identified in the 1920s and 1930s are still issues now. Racism is a reality today just as it was a reality back then. The question of the degree to which Blacks control their economic, political, social, and spiritual destinies around the world was relevant back then and is relevant now. The validity that society affords art and the value that society does or does not place upon the lives of creative artists working in any given medium was very much an issue during the renaissance and is very much an issue now.
Doubts and concerns regarding leadership were voiced back then and are concerns right now. I would therefore hope that Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance encourages people to, first of all, confront whatever issues they are facing in their lives with honesty and then to establish some form of public dialogue, if needed, regarding the issues. I would hope this book would inspire them to establish creative solutions to the various challenges in their lives.
Aberjhani (cont.): As much as we already know about the Harlem Renaissance, we are still discovering it and likely will be discovering it for some time. Names and events that were previously overlooked are surfacing every day. And it’s important for us to heed that fact because what W. E. B. Du Bois and Arthur [Arturo] Schomburg pointed out in the last century remains true; namely, that much of what we refer to as Black American history is, in fact, the history of the United States. With that in mind, this first edition of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance should be considered one step toward that greater discovery.
West: It is so important for our people to see, through books like the Encyclopedia, that history repeats itself but, as ever-evolving resourceful human beings, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to challenge and to change. It is also a delight to re-read and be able to re-enforce through this book, as Hughes wrote in his essay The Negro and the Racial Mountain, that “... we are beautiful and ugly too.” Honesty is empowering. One of the mandates of the New Negro Movement was to “uplift the race.” I know that the book does its job to uplift. I just hope, now, that the people who read it feel the power.
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Supporter of principles advocated by PEN American Center and the Academy of American Poets, Aberjhani is also the Choice Academic Title Award-winning co-author of the world's first Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.