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The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

By: Jeffrey C. Stewart

Publisher: OXFORD UNIV PR

Imprint: Oxford University Press, USA

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780195089578

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On Sale: | Pages: 944

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Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction. 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. 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. 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.
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.... 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.... 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.
—New York Times
In describing Locke's life as a black man, a thinker and fighter in social causes, and a homosexual, Stewart, professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, must in a way describe many different Alain Lockes. That such a gripping and cohesive narrative could be forged out of such fractured material is no mean accomplishment.... This is a lavishly detailed study: every period of Locke's life is studied at length and readers follow that life through Europe and Washington and Harlem right down to Locke's death in 1954.
—Christian Science Monitor
Jeffrey C. Stewart's 900-plus-page “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” is a vitally important, astonishingly well researched, exhaustive biography of the brilliant, complex, flawed, utterly fascinating man who, if he did not start the movement, served as its curator, intellectual champion, and guiding spirit.... Mr. Stewart's explanation of value theory, the focus of Locke's Oxford thesis, is particularly impressive, as is his fascinating synopsis of a series of lectures Locke delivered at Howard, which did much to resolve the tension between a rejection of racial essentialism, on the one hand, and the celebration of black people's art, on the other.... Mr. Stewart also provides a solid understanding of his subject's importance, and of the social and cultural contexts from which Locke emerged and into which he entered.
—Wall Street Journal
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