Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture

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Sisters Paulette and Jane Nardal, born in Martinique, played a fundamental role in Négritude and also served as a bridge between French- and English-speaking black writers who met every Sunday in their salon. In 1931 the Nardal sisters and the Haitian Leo Sajous published La revue du monde noir (The Review of the Black World), a bilingual literary journal.

Flemish artist Franz Masereel's woodcut for the first edition of Pigments depicts a black man in a city bursting forth from a tuxedo, a symbol of the constraining pomp and elitism of Western culture. His nakedness, the palm trees, and the black figures are meant to represent the essence of blackness, or Négritude. They can also be seen as reinforcing the stereotype of primitivism associated with Africans.

Léon-Gontran Damas (1912–1978) was born in French Guiana. In 1924 he went to school in Martinique, where he met Aimé Césaire; he later met Senghor as he continued his studies in Paris in 1929. Like his two friends, he entered politics and was a representative from Guiana in the French parliament (1948–1951). In 1970 he became a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and then taught at Howard University until his death. Damas strongly advocated a quest for the authentic self, knowledge of self, and a rediscovery of African beliefs, values, institutions, and civilizations.

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This literary review was founded by Aimé Césaire and his wife, Suzanne, in 1941. The review published eleven issues and folded in 1945.

Négritude is a cultural movement launched in 1930s Paris by French-speaking black graduate students from France's colonies in Africa and the Caribbean territories. These black intellectuals converged around issues of race identity and black internationalist initiatives to combat French imperialism. They found solidarity in their common ideal of affirming pride in their shared black identity and African heritage, and reclaiming African self-determination, self–reliance, and self–respect. The Négritude movement signaled an awakening of race consciousness for blacks in Africa and the African Diaspora. This new race consciousness, rooted in a (re)discovery of the authentic self, sparked a collective condemnation of Western domination, anti-black racism, enslavement, and colonization of black people. It sought to dispel denigrating myths and stereotypes linked to black people, by acknowledging their culture, history, and achievements, as well as reclaiming their contributions to the world and restoring their rightful place within the global community.

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Of major significance are the Harlem Renaissance intellectuals who fled to France to escape racism and segregation in the United States. Prominent among them were Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, and Claude McKay. McKay, who bemoaned divisions of blacks, was acclaimed by Senegalese poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor as the spiritual founder of Négritude values. Senghor argued that "far from seeing in one's blackness inferiority, one accepts it; one lays claim to it with pride; one cultivates it lovingly." Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey similarly implored his peers: "Negroes, teach your children that they are direct descendants of the greatest and proudest race who ever peopled the earth."


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Different libraries have different sources. Your school or public library will have some good resources for literary criticism, but if you need more, you may be able to do some research at an academic library near you. This pathfinder suggests some online and print sources, to show you what kinds of things are available on the Web and in libraries. If you can't find a particular title at your library, don't worry; just ask a librarian your question, and he or she can help you locate a similar resource.

The Spectator was published daily and consisted of a single essay on a topic usually having to do with conduct or public behavior and contained no political news.

There are lots of series which include plot synopses and basic criticism of famous novels. Frank Magill's Masterplots and Critical Surveys are reasonably reliable and most articles are written by scholars. Other sources, like Cliff's Notes, are sometimes also written by scholars, but be sure and check to see that the author has good credentials (for example, a master's degree or PhD in literature).