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"A Great Day in Harlem" with a group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians (photo credit-Art Kane)

A Great Day in LA
Leimert Park Village Book Fair Celebrates the Harlem Renaissance

On June 25th, thousands of book lovers will converge at the 5th annual Leimert Park Village Book fair to meet and greet over 200 African American authors, poets, spoken word artists, storytellers, and performers.

The free event, which celebrates the written word and promotes literacy and education, will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street in Los Angeles.

This year's event, which is expected to surpass last year's crowd of nearly 5,000 attendees, will pay a special tribute to the Harlem Renaissance and one of its premiere literary giants, Langston Hughes.

Cynthia Exum, founder and executive director of the book fair, will honor Hughes and the other notable writers of the Harlem Renaissance during a special presentation on the Main Stage at 4 p.m.

"The Harlem Renaissance represents an unprecedented ensemble of African American art and music," said Exum. "This period in time continues to have a profound influence on the African American community and artists all over the world."

The Harlem Renaissance, which spanned the era from the middle of World War I through the early 1930's, chronicled an intense period of unparalleled artistic creativity in Harlem during a period in which African American writers, artists, musicians, dancers and poets celebrated black art and heritage and helped to foster black pride.  It grew out of the changes that had taken place in the African American community since the abolition of slavery. These accelerated as a consequence of World War I and the great social and cultural changes in early 20th century United States.

Industrialization was attracting people to cities from rural areas and gave rise to a new mass culture. Contributing factors leading to the Harlem Renaissance were the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities, which concentrated ambitious people in places where they could encourage each other, and the First World War, which had created new industrial work opportunities for tens of thousands of people.

During this time period, the musical style of blacks was becoming more and more attractive to whites. White novelists, dramatists and composers started to exploit the musical tendencies and themes of African-American in their works. Composers used poems written by African American poets in their songs, and would implement the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of African-American music-such as blues, spirituals, and jazz-into their concert pieces.

The Harlem Renaissance was successful in that it brought the Black experience clearly within the corpus of American cultural history. Not only through an explosion of culture, but on a sociological level, the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance is that it redefined how America, and the world, viewed the African-American population. The migration of southern Blacks to the north changed the image of the African-American from rural, undereducated peasants to one of urban, cosmopolitan sophistication. This new identity led to a greater social consciousness, and African-Americans became players on the world stage, expanding intellectual and social contacts internationally.

Considered as one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes can aptly be described as a true renaissance man. He was a prolific novelist, poet, essayist, autobiographer, playwright, and writer of children's books whose published works span forty-one years, from 1926 until his death from prostate cancer in 1967.

Hughes stated in retrospect he thought his start as a poet in elementary school was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm. "I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet." During high school in Cleveland, Ohio, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, "When Sue Wears Red", was written while he was in high school. It was during this time that he discovered his love of books.

Throughout his life he celebrated and championed black life, writing movingly and with great passion about African American's pain and joy, anger and love.

He was one of the first poets to embrace the new movement of jazz poetry, wherein the rhythms and phrasings of jazz and blues were woven into his works.

Hughes first gained national acclaim for his first book of poetry, "The Weary Blues," which featured what would widely be known as his signature piece, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Other important works include his first novel, "Not Without Laughter," and two autobiographies, "The Big Sea" and "I Wonder as I Wander."

Although he traveled throughout his life, Hughes made a brownstone in Harlem his home and was often spotted strolling on Harlem's streets. He frequently visited Harlem's churches, schools and clubs that spurred and inspired his work. 

During his lifetime, Hughes was honored by many universities and institutions, including the Library of Congress who deemed him as the guiding light of black literature around the world. He also received the Spingarn Medal for his lifelong achievements from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Other notable authors that came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance included Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Jesse Redmond Fauset, Nella Larsen, Sterling Brown, and Zora Neale Hurston-all of whom were celebrated for chronicling the beauty and complexities of black life and whose literary efforts characterized and illuminated the experience of being black in America.

In addition to celebrating the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, the Leimert Park Village Book Fair will feature live music, spoken word performance/poetry recitals, storytelling, readings, author meet and greets, writing workshops, panel discussions, theatre performances and film screenings.

For more information about the Leimert Park Village Book Fair, visit www.leimertparkbookfair.com, event updates can also be found on Twitter @leimertparkbook.

Category: News


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