The Great War and the Culture of the New Negro

Mark Whalan

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"An original and insightful look at how African Americans remembered the Great War. The outpouring of novels, plays, political treatises, photographs, and proposed memorials reveals how strongly the war shaped literature, art, and politics in the postwar African American community."--Jennifer Keene, Chapman University

"A highly impressive study that will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the impact of World War I on the New Negro Renaissance."--Anthony Dawahare, California State University, Northridge

More than 200,000 African American soldiers fought in World War I, and returning troops frequently spoke of "color-blind" France. Such cosmopolitan experiences, along with the brutal, often desegregated no-man's-land between the trenches, forced African American artists and writers to reexamine their relationship to mainstream (white) American culture.

The war represented a seminal moment for African Americans, and in the 1920s and 1930s it became a touchstone for such diverse cultural concerns as the pan-African impulse, the burgeoning civil rights movement, and the redefinition of black masculinity.

In examining the legacy of the Great War on African American culture, Mark Whalan considers the work of such canonical writers as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Alain Locke. In addition, he considers the legacy of the war for African Americans as represented in film, photography, and anthropology, with a particular focus on the photographer James VanDerZee.

Mark Whalan is senior lecturer of American literature and culture at the University of Exeter.

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"Fills a critical niche in the scholarship. Repositions African American dentity within the dialogue on cultural nationalism and incorporates a new set of issues into the criticism of African American literature."

"Whalan provides an outstanding study of the complexity of the New Negro Renaissance and argues that the "war and it's immediate aftermath saw the worst in American racial attitudes, but also offered inspiring possibilities outside the straight-jacket of American racial politics" (p. 14). Whalan's powerful and insightful study demonstrates that despite the sorrow left by unanswered expectations of the First World War, African Americans "helped shape the artistic, subjective, and political innovations that made the 1920s such an accomplished era in African American cultural life" (p. 246). This book is a must-read in exploring the complexities of the New Negro Renaissance and understanding the powerful impact of war on race in American society."
--Journal of American Ethnic History

Lucidly written and meticulously documented, The Great War and the culture of the New Negro is an invaluable resource.

All of Whalan’s analysis- of gender, sexuality, literary works, theater, music, the politics of language, and France- is sophisticated, thought provoking and deeply engaging. Theoretically rich, The Great War and the Culture of the New Negro offers a robust introduction to the roots of New Negro culture that will equip readers with a persuasive sense of the era’s most pressing questions.
--American Quarterly

Whalan’s meticulously researched book charts these ‘often over-looked themes, images, memories, and engagements with the Great war’ . . . [and] productively mines an array of texts, including black radical newspapers, the writings of Jessie Fauset, Alain Locke, and Claude Mckay, and James VanDerZee’s military photographs to tease out the changing racial understandings of the Great War.
--American literature

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