Continued from the Harlem Renaissance Dialogues Part 5 Angela Kinamore Interview with Aberjhani and Sandra L. West first published in African Voices Magazine spring 2005:
Kinamore: Was this book written for a specific audience?
Aberjhani: This book was written for a world audience because the Harlem Renaissance was an international event. Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes’ visits to Paris helped generate the Negritude Movement--which is still very much alive--made famous by the Nardal sisters, Aime’ Cesaire, and the late Leopold Senghor among others. Claude McKay wrote a history of African America for publication in Russia.
The great Paul Robeson lived and worked a number of years in England. And England and Paris were of course major venues for black performance artists like Florence Mills, Josephine Baker, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle, as well as for black athletes and artists. Garvey’s Negro World newspaper was published in several languages and distributed throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and the African continent.
West: This book was written for a general audience, in terms of who will be able to read it. It is a scholarly work , well done, but it is not just for scholars. I think the encyclopedia is capable of holding the interest of young people of middle and high school age, in addition to adult readers. Even though it is a reference book, it is extremely readable. I have a teacher friend, Don, former journalist with the Nigerian Times, who tells me that he reads the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance every night, thirty minutes a night. Such dedication to learning!
Kinamore: What do you think of the Black literary renaissance that’s emerging and what trends in black literary expression do you expect to see in the next 20 years?
Aberjhani: I think the current renaissance is not a renaissance at all but an evolutionary leap forward in the greater development of American and African-American culture. Whereas Black literature in the past has been largely marginalized, even within the black community, it is now becoming a central and permanent element of American culture, so that we are no longer likely to experience gaps of decades between the publications of quality works by Black authors. The foundation laid by the Harlem Renaissance and then secured by the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s is what made the boom [at the turn of the 21st century], if you will, possible.
As far as the next 20 years go, I would expect to see the further development of different categories of Black literature. At present, a dominant form of Black literary expression seems to be the relationship novel with the urban street novel also growing in popularity. My guess is that the next two decades will see novels by black artists experimenting with serious historical scenarios, political issues, spiritual dilemmas, philosophical questions, and science fiction themes.
West: The black reading renaissance is official. Nonfiction books and novels have been written about the reading extravaganza that has been blazing across the black community for decades. Also, there is so much work coming out of the African American community that publishers are courting writers. There are anthologies documenting our “new” poetry, not unlike the many important anthologies born during the Harlem Renaissance era. There is a steady flow of hip-hop drama such as A Hustler’s Wife, that has been on the Essence magazine best seller list since August 2003, stories not terribly unlike Home to Harlem written by Claude McKay.
There is more nonfiction, possibly, during the twenty-first century. Our heritage, our arts, our letters are being documented. Our historians and intellectuals are producing more: anthologies of black literature, trilogies about the state of love in the Black community – bell hooks, Cornel West, Dr. Skip Gates and company–– for which we will always be grateful. There is so much new black literature – and it has been coming strong since the 1970s and especially strong since the 1990s.
NEXT, FINAL PART 7: The Renaissance and Contemporary Issues
© 27 January 2016
Bright Skylark Literary Productions
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.