On February 18, 2020, MoFo’s San Francisco office welcomed esteemed professor and poet Chiyuma Elliott for a discussion on the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, citizenship, and national belonging. Professor Elliott’s visit coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that began in 1920s Harlem and spread African American literature, music, stage performance, and art throughout the world. Literature was one of the main forms of expression to come out of the movement, and authors such as Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen explored questions of race and belonging in their art.
During the discussion, Professor Elliott explored how the fictional and poetic works of such celebrated Harlem Renaissance authors spoke to racial identity in the 1920s. In particular, she discussed the role of miscegenation laws in Nella Larsen’s novel Passing; the relationship between Jean Toomer’s shifting racial self-categorization, and changes in U.S. Census categories. She also discussed some of the ways that immigration laws in the 1920s helped to illuminate the meaning and implications of Langston Hughes’s famous poem “I, Too, Sing America.” Taken together, the literary works and life stories of these authors paint a vivid picture of race and national belonging in this dynamic era in American history.
Chiyuma Elliott is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and a former Stegner Fellow. Her poems have appeared in the African American Review, Callaloo, the Notre Dame Review, the PN Review, and other journals. She has received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center. Additionally, she authored of two books of poetry: California Winter League (2015) and Vigil (2017); and is currently at work on a monograph about rural life in the Harlem Renaissance.
Read more about how MoFo is celebrating Black History Month here.