Study Guide

Harlem Renaissance Literature Timeline

How It All Went Down

1903: W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk

Even though the Harlem Renaissance really gained momentum later on, how can we not mention the major philosophical backbone of the movement? Plus, books have long lives; The Souls of Black Folk certainly did (and still does).

1910: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded

How does a group of people get anywhere without a major organization to help it along? Good thing people like W.E.B. Du Bois founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Yep, that NAACP, the primary organization supporting African Americans today.

1914: The Universal N**** Improvement Association (UNIA) is founded

This was the beginning of the pan-African and Black Nationalist movement. And it all started with the efforts of one man: Marcus Garvey.

1914-1918: World War I

A world war isn't exactly what you might consider auspicious beginnings for a major literary movement. But here's why it helped foster your now-favorite Renaissance: the war opened up job opportunities in the North. And once those jobs opened up, people flocked to northern cities like artsy-types to a fantastic party.

1917: Three Plays for a N**** Theatre premiers

The first play in Harlem that featured complex African American characters. Need we say more?

1919: The Red Summer

Sure, there were jobs that opened up during the war. But there were also returning soldiers—people who wanted their jobs back and were willing to fight for them. Even if that meant killing blacks and other minorities.

This bloody summer also resulted from the fact that black Americans didn't just lie down and let the returning white soldiers take their positions. In several cities across the U.S., they fought back. And that resistance was a source of inspiration for the Harlem Renaissance.

1919: Claude McKay's "If We Must Die"

What's that saying? If life gives you lemons, make lemonade? That's kind of what happened here. The Red Summer occurred and then McKay wrote this poem, the first major sound of militancy in the Harlem Renaissance.

1920-1930: The Great Migration

Okay, first there was the war. Then there were the job openings. And then, this: southern blacks moving to northern cities, dreaming of racial equality and economic opportunity.

This population migration is what made the Harlem Renaissance possible.

1925: Alain Locke's The New N****: An Interpretation

With a title like The New N****, this book was just asking to help define the Harlem Renaissance. It gave a name to African Americans' evolving identities. "The New N****" was also the original name for the Harlem Renaissance itself.

1925: Countee Cullen's Color

One of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance publishes his first collection of poems. A pretty major event, no?

1926: Langston Hughes's The Weary Blues

This is the first collection of poetry from the "poet laureate" of the Harlem Renaissance.

1929: The Great Depression

When the economy crashed, it was the beginning of the end… And lots of people were pretty depressed about it.

1935: Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway

A musical with an all-black cast on Broadway. Super controversial at the time. Porgy and Bess was also one of the last artistic productions of the movement. ::Single tear::

1937: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

The most famous woman writer of the Harlem Renaissance publishes her most famous work. Hey, who says the movement can't end with a bang?

1945: Langston Hughes's The Big Sea

You know it has to be the end of an era when one of the major figures of a movement writes an autobiography that disses the movement he helped create. Yikes. An important work, and a complicated one, too.