Description: Despite the proliferation of criticism on the cultural work of the Harlem Renaissance over the course of the past two decades, surprisingly few critics have focused on the ways in which religious contexts shaped the works of New Negro writers and artists during that time. In Goodbye Christ? Christianity, Masculinity, and the New Negro Renaissance, Peter Kerry Powers fills this scholarly void, exploring how the intersection of race, religion, and gender during the Harlem Renaissance impacted the rhetoric and imagination of prominent African American writers of the early twentieth century.
Excerpt: The Harlem Renaissance grew up in the shadows of churches. And more than shadows. It grew up in the churches, in the sanctuaries that provided platforms for performances, in the people who were primary readers and inspiring sources of theme and character, in the church-owned or related colleges that educated many of the writers and artists and the broadest swath of their audience, in the history of churches that first frames what it might mean to envision a new black nation with New Negro men and women, and in the language and music that provided a matrix for the artistry and intellectual discourse that developed between 1900 and 1940. This sense of imbricated proximity is illustrated by a quick search buildings and institutions on the website “Digital Harlem,” or by brief savers of maps associated with the study of Harlem during the period. Large Christian institutions sat on the same block as popular nightclubs. Glittering hot spots on street corners balanced on a fulcrum of massive religious institutions situated in the middle of a block. Innumerable fly-by-night speakeasies stood cheek-by-jowl with equally uncountable and ephemeral storefront and spiritualist churches. And, in some respects, the worlds they created mirrored one another when they did not interpenetrate, a fact that artists like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Aaron Douglas recognized and represented. The nightclubs gave birth to organ jazz, and urban churches gave birth to gospel blues. The literati and the jazz performer alike tried to make their words and music preach. Churchmen and public intellectuals together felt as if they were birthing a new race and, in their own spheres and in their own ways, making plain the pathway of its coming.
- A thorough overview and very positive comments from Tiffany Ruby Patterson at the American Historical Review. Read my post response here.
- Hannah Garvey at Reading Religion (AAR): Garvey’s review is general positive, noting that “Goodbye, Christ? does the important work of drawing the reader’s attention to the role that Christianity has played—and continues to play—in the cultural work of what Powers calls African America.” Garvey takes me to task for not engaging Harriss’s book on Ellison or Best’s book on Langston Hughes. Somewhat defensively, I will note that Best’s book appeared after mine was already past the final page proof stage, and so it was impossible to engage. And my own book, for better or for worse, only makes cursory overview statements about literature and culture since 1940, so I did not engage with Ellison at all. Nevertheless, I’m thrilled that both books are out there now, testifying to the importance of engaging with religion and African American cultural production. I hope to make further comments about both books in the future on the blog.
- Hardcover: 236 pages
- Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1st edition (February 9, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1621903737
- ISBN-13: 978-1621903734
Available from University of Tennessee Press (and GREAT bookstores everywhere!)