14 Authors From the Harlem Renaissance: A Concise Overview

Discover our top list of authors from the Harlem Renaissance in this article.

The Harlem Renaissance spanned from the 1920s and 1930s and was used to revive the intellectual and cultural world of African-American history. It created a booming revival of Black art, writing, music, and more, mainly in Harlem, New York. This exciting historical period brought talented Black and African-American writers to the forefront of America’s literary scene.

These Harlem Renaissance writers wrote with a defined voice, showing Black Americans’ diverse lives and challenges. Not only did they loudly celebrate their heritage, but they also confronted unfair judgment and racial bias. Their inspiring work paved the way for modern Black Americans to have a voice in American culture and literature. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll enjoy our round-up of the best biographies every writer should read.

1. Langston Hughes, 1901 – 1967

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was a social activist, poet, novelist and innovator of jazz poetry 

Hughes’ vast portfolio includes essays, short stories, and plays produced between the late 1920s and 1967. He was mainly known for his poetic work, which celebrated Black culture. Hughes’s pieces, such as The Weary Blues, painted vivid pictures of the everyday Black American experience, blending music, humor, and poignant reflections on racial identity. Check out The Weary Blues on Amazon; click here.

“Bring me all of your dreams, You dreamers. Bring me all of your Heart melodies That I may wrap them In a blue cloud-cloth Away from the too rough fingers Of the world.”

Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues

2. Zora Neale Hurston, 1891 – 1960

Xora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s writing portrayed the racial struggles in the early 1900s American South

Beyond her role as a writer, Hurston was deeply involved in anthropology and folklore research. Her best-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, provides a gripping narrative of a Black woman’s journey to self-realization. Hurston’s works resonate deeply because they beautifully capture the nuances of African-American traditions, culture, and spirituality. Check out Their Eyes Were Watching God on Amazon; click here.

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

3. Claude McKay, 1890 – 1948

Claude McKay
Claude McKay was a significant figure and a Jamaican-American writer and poet

Claude McKay was born in Jamaica and traveled to the United States to attend college.

McKay’s writings provide a critical insight into the life and challenges of Black individuals in America. In his novel, Home to Harlem, he portrays the complexities of Black life and the persistent fight against racism and discrimination. Check out Home To Harlem on Amazon; click here.

“Adventure-seasoned and storm-buffeted,
I shun all signs of anchorage, because
The zest of life exceeds the bound of laws.”

Claude McKay, Selected Poems

4. Jean Toomer, 1894 – 1967

Jean Toomer
Jean Toomer was a famous American poet during the Harlem Renaissance period

Toomer gained fame through his novel Cane. It’s a unique blend of fiction, poetry, and drama. This collection offers readers an intricate portrayal of Black life in the U.S., moving between the North and South and exploring themes of love, struggle, and identity. Check out Cane on Amazon; click here.

5. Countee Cullen, 1903 – 1946

Countee Cullen
Countee Cullen was an American poet, novelist and children’s writer

Countee Cullen had a knack for blending Black heritage with Western literary traditions. Cullen’s poetry is both introspective and universal. Pieces like “Heritage” delve deep into themes of race, youth, and self-discovery, providing profound insights into the Black psyche. Check out Countee Cullen’s poetry on Amazon; click here.

“Man dreams that he is more than a leaf on a tree.”

Countee Cullen, “Leaves”

6. James Weldon Johnson, 1871 – 1938

James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson was a civil rights activist and writer

A multi-talented figure, Johnson was a writer, lawyer, and influential civil rights activist. His seminal work, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, profoundly explores race, identity, and the challenges of being biracial in early 20th-century America. Check out The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man on Amazon; click here.

“I believe it to be a fact that the colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them.”

James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man

7. Alain Locke, 1885 – 1954

Alain Locke
Alain Locke was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar

Often referred to as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance,” Locke was both a philosopher and a writer. His anthology, The New Negro, highlighted the importance of Black arts and culture. The groundbreaking work argued for a new, proud presentation of the African-American self. Check out The New Negro on Amazon; click here.

“Art must discover and reveal the beauty which prejudice and caricature have overlaid.”

Alain LeRoy Locke

8. Sterling Brown, 1901 – 1989

Sterling Brown
Sterling Brown was an American poet and folklorist

Brown’s works are insightful chronicles of Southern Black life. With a unique blend of humor, satire, and realism, he portrayed the joys, sorrows, and complexities of Black existence, as seen in his poem “Southern Road.” Check out Sterling Brown’s poetry on Amazon; click here.

“Carefully as an old maid over needlework,
Oh, as some black deacon, over his Bible, lovingly,
He’d tune up specially for this. There’d be
No chatter now, no patting of the feet.”

Sterling Brown, “When de Saints Go Ma’ching Home”

9. Nella Larsen, 1891 – 1964

Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen was an American contemporary author

Nella Larsen was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance movement and is often lauded as an important figure in American modernism. In novels like Quicksand and Passing, Larsen delved into the intricacies of being a modern Black woman facing societal pressures and personal desires. Her sharp narrative style and intricate character explorations make her works stand out. Check out Quicksand on Amazon; click here.

“To each his own milieu. Enhance what was already in one’s possession.”

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

10. Arna Bontemps, 1902 – 1973

Arna Bontemps
Arna Bontemps was a successful American poet

Arna Bontemps was born in Louisiana and published his first poem at the young age of 22. Bontemps’s stories weave tales of the African-American journey. Works like Black Thunder underscore Black Americans’ highs and lows, dreams, and despair during tumultuous times in the 20th century. Check out Black Thunder on Amazon; click here.

“Let us keep the dance of rain our fathers kept and tread our dreams beneath the jungle sky.”

Arna Bontemps

11. Dorothy West, 1907 – 1998

Dorothy West
Dorothy West was a popular American short story writer

West is best remembered for her novel The Living Is Easy, which portrays the life of an ambitious African-American woman in early 20th-century Boston. She also founded the literary journal Challenge, offering a platform for various Harlem Renaissance writers. Check out Dorothy West’s popular novel, The Wedding, on Amazon; click here.

“Identity is not inherent. It is shaped by circumstance and sensitivity and resistance to self-pity.”

Dorothy West, The Wedding

12. Wallace Thurman, 1902 – 1934

Wallace Thurman
Wallace Thurman was an American screenplay writer and novelist

Thurman was a force to reckon with as a novelist and editor. His novel The Blacker the Berry is one of the earliest works to delve into colorism within the Black community, emphasizing the protagonist’s struggles with her dark complexion. Additionally, he was instrumental in creating the magazine Fire!!, which showcased the talents of many young Black artists and writers. Check out The Blacker the Berry on Amazon; click here.

“It was the way of Emma Lou always to create her worlds within her own mind without taking under consideration the fact that other people and other elements, not contained within herself, would also have to aid in their molding.”

Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry

13. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1880 – 1966

Georgia Douglas Johnson
Georgia Douglas Johnson was a popular playwright and poet

Johnson’s poetic works often revolved around love, motherhood, and the struggles of Black women in America. With collections like “Bronze” and “An Autumn Love Cycle,” she painted a vivid picture of the emotions and experiences of Black women, making her one of the most recognized female poets of the era. Check out the works on Georgia Douglas Johnson on Amazon; click here.

“A woman’s heart goes down with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.”

Georgia Douglas Johnson, “The Heart of a Woman”

14. Jessie Redmon Fauset, 1882 – 1961

Jessie Redmon Fauset
Jessie Redmon Fauset was an American editor, educator and novelist

As the literary editor for the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, under W. E. B. Du Bois Fauset was influential in promoting new African-American writers. Her novels, including There is Confusion and Plum Bun, spotlighted the challenges and aspirations of the Black middle class, emphasizing racial identity and femininity themes. Check out There Is Confusion on Amazon; click here.

“Sometimes I think no matter how one is born, no matter how one acts, there is something out of gear with one somewhere, and that must be changed. Life at its best is a grand corrective.”

Jessie Redmon Fauset, There Is Confusion

Influence on American Literature 

The Harlem Renaissance reshaped American literature, amplifying African-American voices. Writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston addressed racial identity and pride. Their fresh perspectives enriched American literature, fostering empathy and interracial understanding, leading to a more inclusive literary landscape.

Social and Cultural Impact

The Harlem Renaissance, driven by the Great Migration, uplifted African-American culture and identity. With Harlem, NYC, as its epicenter, the movement birthed pivotal figures like Hughes, Hurston, and McKay, who confronted stereotypes and influenced the civil rights movement. Jazz and blues gained popularity, and the movement’s legacy still inspires artists and thinkers today.

Criticism and Controversy 

Despite its achievements, the Harlem Renaissance faced critique. Some felt it perpetuated racial stereotypes, while concerns about white patron influence grew. Internal debates arose over literary art’s role in politics and society. Nevertheless, its significant contributions to American literary history remain undeniable.

Legacy of the Harlem Renaissance 

Spanning 1918-1937, the Harlem Renaissance remains a pinnacle in African-American literary history. Authors like Hughes, Hurston, and McKay addressed racial prejudices, setting the stage for the civil rights movement. Inspiring later writers like Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks, its influence endures in contemporary literature, reflecting the profound impact of this era’s creativity.

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best American authors!

FAQs About Authors From The Harlem Renaissance

What are some notable Harlem Renaissance works?

Some notable works from the Harlem Renaissance include Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and Countee Cullen’s collection of poetry “Color.” These works reflect the diversity and creativity of the period, often addressing racial identity, cultural pride, and the African-American experience.

Who were the key figures in Harlem Renaissance literature?

Key figures in Harlem Renaissance literature include writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer. These authors produced various literary works encompassing poetry, novels, essays, and short stories. bss


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