Quick Question

To anyone who might know–

When we were looking at McKay’s “America,” one question we focused on was why he chose the Shakespearean sonnet as his form of choice. As I was thinking about it more I thought  McKay might have been making a pun on the name of the Harlem Renaissance, since that was the time during which Shakespeare made his sonnets infamous. However, upon trying to research it I can only find that during its time the movement was called the “New Negro Movement.”


My question is: when did it start to be called the Harlem Renaissance, and who came up with the name?

1 thought on “Quick Question

  1. An interesting thought, Angela, and thanks for using the blog to invite a conversation. Except I accidentally left the comments off by default. I’ve turned them on for this post, in case others wish to reply.

    I don’t have a definitive answer for you about the origin of the term “Harlem Renaissance”; I will look it up. Variants do go back to the period—in 1925 the important anthology The New Negro (edited by Alain Locke, including poems by McKay and Hughes among many others) has as a section heading: “The Negro Renaissance.” “The new negro” is, you’re right, a more widespread term from the time. In a 1920 editorial in The Crisis, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “A renaissance of American negro literature is due” (19, no. 6: 299).

    For myself, though “America” is definitely a poem about youth, renewal, and conflict, I think without more specific evidence in the text we can’t assume any particular reference to the English Renaissance that we could refer back to the sonnet form, which has continuously alive in English since the 16th century. McKay wrote many sonnets (browse around Harlem Shadows)…

Leave a Reply