Images of Black Modernism
Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance
University of Massachusetts Press 2010
Miriam Thaggert’s study Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), is an exceptional contribution to the discussion of both modernism and the the period of intense African American artistic production known as the Harlem Renaissance. Black Modernism is particularly invaluable because it explores the techniques, devices, and politics of blackness as both a cultural and literary concept, even as it examines modernism in the same way. It is a well-written and meticulously researched study.
The University of Massachusetts Press’s website explains that “Thaggert identifies and analyzes an early form of black American modernism characterized by a heightened level of experimentation with visual and verbal techniques for narrating and representing blackness. The work of the writers and artists under discussion reflects the creative tension between the intangibility of some forms of black expression, such as spirituals, and the materiality of the body evoked by other representations of blackness, such as “Negro” dialect.”
I am especially enthralled with Thaggert’s deft analyses of James Weldon Johnson’s famous introductions to his volumes on African American poetry and African American spirituals. She handles the cross influences between black and white writers of the early period of the Harlem Renaissance with insight and respect. This undeniable academic study can easily be handled by educated critics, working outside of university environments. It also offers a heuristic investigation for those within the academy.
Thaggert is a careful and intelligent writer, and she brings her fresh perspective alive in our hour-long discussion. Please listen in.