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The new Negro : the life of Alain Locke
2018
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Author Notes
<br> Jeffrey C. Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History.<br>
Fiction/Biography Profile
Genre
NonFiction
Arts
Literary
Sociology
Topics
Harlem Renaissance
African Americans
Artists
Mentors
Gay men
Higher education
Black history
African American culture
Setting
- United States
Time Period
-- 19th-20th century
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

ALAIN LEROY LOCKE'S DRIVE to revolutionize black culture was fueled in no small part by his sense of self-importance. "When a man has something to be conceited over," he wrote, "I call it self-respect." Unlike many of his colleagues and rivals in the black freedom struggle of the early 20th century, Locke, a trailblazer of the Harlem Renaissance, believed that art and the Great Migration, not political protest, were the keys to black progress. BÎack Americans would only forge a new and authentic sense of themselves, he argued, by pursuing artistic excellence and insisting on physical mobility. Psychological devotion to self-determination would transcend white racism and render stereotypes of black people obsolete. As Locke wrote in a draft of "The New Negro," his seminal 1925 essay, "The question is no longer what whites think of the Negro but of what the Negro wants to do and what price he is willing to pay to do it." Jeffrey C. Stewart's majestic biography, also titled "The New Negro," gives Locke the attention his life deserves, but the book is more than a catalog of this now largely overlooked philosopher and critic's achievements. Stewart, a historian and professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, also renders the tangled knot of art, sexuality and yearning for liberation that propelled Locke's work. Locke never completely untied that knot for himself, but he grappled with it until his death. Locke was born in Philadelphia in 1885. His father, Pliny, was a law school graduate and frustrated radical who died when Locke was 6. Locke's mother, Mary, provided a tenuously middle-class life for Alain with her salary as a teacher, and raised her son to play the aristocrat from the time he was young. Locke dressed immaculately and was taught not to kiss or touch strangers, for fear of germs. He and his mother disdained contamination in all forms, and made every effort to distance themselves from poor black people, to avoid being stained by association. Locke grew up determined to demonstrate his worth not by uplifting those less fortunate, but by cultivating a reverence for the arts. He was educated among wealthy white students at one of the city's finest public high schools, and enrolled at Harvard at 19. Even before college, Locke knew he was gay and that he would live his life as a gay man. These contradictory commitments - to respectable, elitist and homophobic black Victorianism on the one hand, and to his gay lifestyle on the other - produced a friction that sparked Locke's intellectual fire. He was discreet about his queerness, but it was a public secret among those who knew him. After a stint at Oxford as the first African-American Rhodes scholar, Locke returned to Harvard and earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. Upon attaining his degree, he stepped confidently into the black intellectual vanguard, although he never gained the celebrity of the hetero-patriarchal "race men" of his time, like W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. In Locke's view, publicly lauded black leadership was inhibited by its obsession with politics, protest and propaganda. In Stewart's words, Locke believed that "the function of literature, art, the theater and so on was to complete the process of self-integration" and "produce a black subjectivity that could become the agent of a cultural and social revolution in America." Locke turned his beliefs into action during the Harlem Renaissance, when he developed his theory of the "New Negro," which became popular among black thought leaders. Locke's version was distinguished by his ideas about migration, modernity and the city. He preferred Greenwich Village, where he eventually bought an apartment, but Harlem was a symbol: a caldron of black diversity and cultural production. The urban black citizen of Harlem would be a new man, an artist with a novel voice and purpose, unburdened by antiquated folk traditions and tired racial stigma. Stewart suggests that Locke's forays into poetry and fiction were stunted by his inability to speak openly about his sexuality. But he was a prolific essayist and critic, reviewing the work of black writers like Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen and René Maran. He edited a series of influential "Bronze Booklets," including Ralph Bunche's treatise "A World View of Race," and managed fraught relationships with paternalistic white patrons to protect the artists he cared for and strengthen his own position in the art world. By the time Locke curated the American Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1940, his status as one of the most prominent figures in black art was beyond question. Under Locke's stewardship, the black arts revolution of the 1920s was undeniably, if obliquely, queer. As a mentor of black artists, he was sexist and often exploitative. He ignored women almost completely and was prone to infatuation with younger, intellectually stimulating men. In some cases, his objects of affection fell in the gray area between adolescence and adulthood, though Stewart is uncertain whether Locke had partners under the age of 19. Many of these men welcomed Locke's advances as they searched for artistic direction and comfort with their own sexuality. Locke was a guide, teaching his students about fine art and gay manhood, a dance between raindrops in a storm of homophobia and racism. Locke's romantic partners were also muses. He indulged in their bodies and ideas, benefiting intellectually from the exchange even when his sexual desires went unconsummated. Perhaps the best example of this pattern is Locke's courtship of Langston Hughes, the poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance, with whom Locke fell in love. Hughes never quite reciprocated Locke's adoration, but his virtuosity was magnetic. He propelled Locke toward a new appreciation of the crises and triumphs of ordinary black people. Locke's conception of black brilliance evolved through his exposure to young and attractive thinkers. The breadth of Locke's work is stunning, and Stewart refuses to emphasize Locke's activities during the Harlem Renaissance at the expense of other contributions. Locke was never truly revered as a philosopher, but he produced original research in the field of value theory, including, for example, on the role emotions play in the formation of values and opinions. He was the first among his peers to take the anthropologist Franz Boas's work to its logical end and declare racial science illegitimate, pointing out that races were national and social groups rather than biological categories. Locke also advocated a return to African aesthetic principles, not as a counternarrative to Western racism but as a means of exalting African forms and techniques. He made a home at Howard University, where he worked for four decades despite uneasy relationships with administrators, who did not care for his lifestyle or his intellectual interests. Frail and prone to a variety of ailments, Locke died from cardiac illness in 1954. Stewart treats seemingly every sentence Locke wrote with great care, reconstructing his wanderings through Europe and Africa, black theater, communism and other geographic and intellectual terrain. The cost of this choice is the length and pace of the book, which is sharply written but unlikely to get readers' adrenaline pumping. The benefits of his thoroughness, however, are manifold. Chief among them is the book's example as a master class in how to trace the lineage of a biographical subject's ideas and predilections. The attachment and longing Locke experienced in relationships with his mother, friends and lovers exerted as much influence on his work as the texts he read and lectures he attended. One finishes Stewart's book haunted by the realization that this must be true for us all. Under Locke's stewardship, the black arts revolution of the 1920s was undeniably, if obliquely, queer.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Stewart (Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen) offers a detailed, definitive biography of Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954), the godfather of the Harlem Renaissance and all around "renaissance man in the finest sense... a man of sociology, art, philosophy, diplomacy, and the Black radical tradition." A Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in philosophy, Locke became the first black Rhodes Scholar, studying in England and Germany; Stewart chronicles those travels as well as Locke's travels in Egypt, Haiti, and the Sudan. The book also explores Locke's personal life as a gay man who was attracted to the young intellectuals who inspired him, including sculptor Richmond Barthé and poet Langston Hughes. Stewart details Locke's misogyny toward writers Jessie Fauset and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as his complicated relationships with W.E.B. Du Bois and his Howard colleagues, who resented Locke's influence. Stewart creates a poignant portrait of a formidable yet flawed genius who navigated the cultural boundaries and barriers of his time while nurturing an enduring African-American intellectual movement. (Feb. 2018) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction.<br> <br> A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro -- the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.<br> <br> In The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart offers the definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally. He narrates the education of Locke, including his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard University, and his long career as a professor at Howard University. Locke also received a cosmopolitan, aesthetic education through his travels in continental Europe, where he came to appreciate the beauty of art and experienced a freedom unknown to him in the United States. And yet he became most closely associated with the flowering of Black culture in Jazz Age America and his promotion of the literary and artistic work of African Americans as the quintessential creations of American modernism. In the process he looked to Africa to find the proud and beautiful roots of the race. Shifting the discussion of race from politics and economics to the arts, he helped establish the idea that Black urban communities could be crucibles of creativity. Stewart explores both Locke's professional and private life, including his relationships with his mother, his friends, and his white patrons, as well as his lifelong search for love as a gay man.<br> <br> Stewart's thought-provoking biography recreates the worlds of this illustrious, enigmatic man who, in promoting the cultural heritage of Black people, became -- in the process -- a New Negro himself.<br>
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Part IThe Education of Alain Locke
1A Death and a Birthp. 5
2A Black Victorian Childhoodp. 15
3Child God and Black Aesthetep. 33
4An Errand of Culture at Harvard College, 1904-1905p. 48
5Locke's Intellectual Awakening, 1905-1907p. 73
6Going for the Rhodesp. 92
7Oxford Contrastsp. 115
8Black Cosmopolitanp. 135
9Paying Second-Year Dues at Oxford, 1908-1909p. 161
10Italy and America, 1909-1910p. 176
11Berlin Storiesp. 192
12Exile's Returnsp. 209
13Race Cosmopolitan Comes Home, 1911-1912p. 226
14Radical Sociologist at Howard University, 1912-1916p. 243
15Rapprochement and Silence: Harvard, 1916-1917p. 273
16Fitting in Washington, D.C., 1917-1922p. 289
Part IIEnter the New Negro
17Rebirthp. 311
18Mother of a Movement, Mothered in Return, 1922-1923p. 332
19Europe Before Egyptp. 354
20Egypt Boundp. 379
21Renaissance Self-Fashioning in 1924p. 395
22The Dinner and the Deanp. 408
23Battling the Barnesp. 420
24Looking for Love and Finding the New Negrop. 431
25Harlem Issuesp. 453
26The New Negro and Howardp. 477
27The New Negro and The Blacksp. 504
28Beauty or Propaganda?p. 521
29Black Curator and White Mommap. 545
30Langston's Indian Summerp. 567
31The American Scholarp. 579
32On Maternalismp. 599
Part IIIMetamorphosis
33The Naked and the Nudep. 629
34The Saving Grace of Realismp. 657
35Bronze Booklets, Gold Artp. 669
36Warn a Brotherp. 694
37The Riot and the Ridep. 717
38Transformationp. 740
39Two Trains Runningp. 755
40The Queer Toussaintp. 771
41The Invisible Lockep. 785
42FBI, Haiti, and Diasporic Democracyp. 815
43Wisdom de Profundisp. 837
44The New Negro Livesp. 864
Epiloguep. 875
Notesp. 879
Select Bibliographyp. 913
Indexp. 915
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