5 Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance began in 1917 and ended in 1937 with the publication of Zora Neale Hurston's novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

During this time, writers emerged to discuss themes such as assimilation, alienation, pride, and unity. Below are several of the most prolific writers of this time period—their works are still read in classrooms today.

Events such as the Red Summer of 1919, meetings at the Dark Tower, and everyday lives of African Americans served as inspiration for these writers who often drew from their Southern roots and Northern lives to create lasting stories.

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Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes is one of the most prominent writers of the Harlem Renaissance. In a career that began in the early 1920s and lasted through his death in 1967, Hughes wrote plays, essays, novels, and poems. 

His most notable works include "Montage of a Dream Deferred," "The Weary Blues," "Not Without Laughter," and "Mule Bone."

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Zora Neale Hurston: Folklorist and Novelist

Zora Neale Hurston

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Zora Neale Hurston's work as an anthropologist, folklorist, essayist, and novelist made her one of the key players of the Harlem Renaissance period.​

In her lifetime, Hurston published more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays as well as four novels and an autobiography. While poet Sterling Brown once said, "When Zora was there, she was the party," Richard Wright found her use of dialect appalling.

Hurston's notable works include "Their Eyes Were Watching God," "Mule Bone," and "Dust Tracks on the Road." Hurston was able to complete most of these works because of the financial help provided by Charlotte Osgood Mason, who helped Hurston to travel throughout the south for four years and collect folklore.

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Jessie Redmon Fauset

Jessie Redmon Fauset

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Jessie Redmon Fauset is often remembered for being one of the architects of the Harlem Renaissance movement for her work with W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson. However, Fauset was also a poet and novelist whose work was widely read during and after the Renaissance period.

Her novels include "Plum Bun," "Chinaberry Tree," and "Comedy: An American Novel."

Historian David Levering Lewis notes that Fauset's work as a key player of the Harlem Renaissance was "probably unequaled" and he argues that "there is no telling what she would have done had she been a man, given her first-rate mind and formidable efficiency at any task."

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Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

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Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr. wrote plays, essays, and poetry. 

In the last seven years of Cotter's life, he wrote several poems and plays. His play "On the Fields of France" was published in 1920, a year after Cotter's death. Set on a battlefield in Northern France, the play follows the last few hours of the lives of two army officers—one Black and the other white—who die holding hands. Cotter also wrote two other plays, "The White Folks’ Nigger" as well as "Caroling Dusk."

Cotter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, as the son of Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr., who was also a writer and educator. Cotter died of tuberculosis in 1919.

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Claude McKay

Claude McKay

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James Weldon Johnson once said, "Claude McKay's poetry was one of the great forces in bringing about what is often called the 'Negro Literary Renaissance.” Considered one of the most prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Claude McKay used themes such as African American pride, alienation, and desire for assimilation in his works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

McKay's most famous poems include "If We Must Die," "America," and "Harlem Shadows."

He also wrote several novels including "Home to Harlem," "Banjo," "Gingertown," and "Banana Bottom."

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Lewis, Femi. "5 Writers of the Harlem Renaissance." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/writers-of-the-harlem-renaissance-45326. Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). 5 Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-of-the-harlem-renaissance-45326 Lewis, Femi. "5 Writers of the Harlem Renaissance." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-of-the-harlem-renaissance-45326 (accessed June 6, 2023).