Later, in his autobiography, written fourteen years after ““The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Hughes disclosed more about his personal history, hinting at his individual dark-skinned self and all of the influences that his family history brought to bear on who he was as a man, as a writer, and as someone who identified himself as African American. “There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family," wrote Hughes in The Blue Sea, detailing that his father was “a darker brown," his mother “an olive-yellow," with white blood from a “Jewish slave trader in Kentucky."[9] He also traced French and Indian blood in his ancestral line, and acknowledged that the mixed heritage from which he descended complicated his identity, despite his complete commitment to being an African American writer. Through this admission, Hughes expressed vague dissatisfaction with being cast into a particular category and being assigned the responsibility of representing a group of people who each had their own individual stories.

Where Langston Hughes was subtle, Richard Wright was bold. Wright, who like Hughes was considered a representative Harlem Renaissance writer, argued for a historical sense that takes into account the fragmented culture of African Americans, so that the African American writer may be aware “of the whole, nourishing culture from which they were torn in Africa, and of the long, complex (and for the most part, unconscious) struggle to regain in some form and under alien conditions of life awhole culture again.”[10] “Generally speaking," he continued, “Negro writing in the past has been confined to humble novels, poems, and plays, prim and decorous ambassadors who went a-begging to white America."[11] One sees here, then, that Wright, like Hughes, advocated literary production that respected all of the fragments of individual and collective identity. That identity was far more complex than Davis would lead his reader to believe. Although Hughes and Wright both supported the effort to foster community among African Americans and among African American writers in particular, neither man wanted to be confined to labels or limitations. Davis’s oversimplistic approach to reviewing the Harlem Renaissance belies the complex aspects of individual writers in particular, and of identity issues in general. By returning to the works produced during that period, we can regain an understanding of the actual complexity of writers and the movement.


[1] Thadious M. Davis, “Southern Standard-Bearers in the New Negro Renaissance," in The History of Southern Literature, eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 291.

[2] Thadious M. Davis, “Southern Standard-Bearers in the New Negro Renaissance," in The History of Southern Literature, eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 298.

[3] Thadious M. Davis, “Southern Standard-Bearers in the New Negro Renaissance," in The History of Southern Literature, eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 291.

[4] Thadious M. Davis, “Southern Standard-Bearers in the New Negro Renaissance," in The History of Southern Literature, eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 294.

[5] Thadious M. Davis, “Southern Standard-Bearers in the New Negro Renaissance," in The History of Southern Literature, eds. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 304

[6] Langston Hughes. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," The Nation, (1926), http://www.hartford hwp.com/archives/45a/360.html., para. 5

[7] Langston Hughes. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," The Nation, (1926), http://www.hartford hwp.com/archives/45a/360.html., para. 14

[8] Langston Hughes. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," The Nation, (1926), http://www.hartford hwp.com/archives/45a/360.html., para. 14

[9] Langston Hughes. The Big Sea: An Autobiography. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1940), 11

[10] Richard Wright. “Blueprint for Negro Writing," New Challenge 2.2 (1937), 3

[11] Richard Wright. “Blueprint for Negro Writing," New Challenge 2.2 (1937), 3