The Harlem Renaissance (1918-1937) was an incredible time in American history.
It was the blossoming of African American culture, particularly in the creative arts, and the most influential movement in African American literary history.
A new cultural festival took place in Madison on Nov. 8 that helped capture some of the creativity and passion of that movement when Madison-based Urban Spoken Word Poetry Collective held its inaugural Harlem Renaissance Festival at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St.
The event fused history with art in a night of self expression and exploration in festivities that included dramatic readings, spoken word artists, art, and music.
“This event will be just the beginning of what we want to do; it’s the rollout of the idea,” says Susan Fox, who helped to organize the event with Urban Spoken Word.
Fox is the former project manager of the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts (MCCCA) who is now working in the non-profit arts in Chicago.
Milwaukee professor and published author Peter Brooks was the moderator of the event.
Brooks gave some background on the Harlem Renaissance and why it is important
Jean Toomer is considered to be the father of the Harlem Renaissance. “Brooks started his book ‘Cane’ while he was at UW and that was pretty much considered the first important written work of the Harlem Renaissance,” Fox says.
Students from St. James School in Madison shared some of their poetry that they wrote about the Harlem Reniassance.
J.W. Basilo, a writer, performer, humorist, musician, and educator from Chicago whose work is equal parts poignant and perverse, hilarious and heart-wrenching, read some of his work.
The Hanah Jon Taylor Artet performed short pieces. Taylor, a native of Chicago, is arguably the preeminent saxophonist and flutist in Madison jazz and a leading catalyst, organizer and educator in inter-arts programming.
Taylor was founder and director of The Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts, which offered concerts, multi arts classes, and events from 2004-2007.
“The [Madison] public library is also working with us on a display of books from their collection about the Harlem Renaissance,” Fox says.
“That was also at the event. I’m going to go to the library and check the books out and bring them over.”
Artist works inspired by the Harlem Renaissance was showcased during the reception portion of the festival.
“We will be doing additional programming next year with the Harlem Renaissance and hopefully we will have the opportunity to find the place where we can actually start the museum,” Fox says.
Urban Spoken Word, an entire community of writers, performance poets, artists, educators, and anyone who wanted to share their thoughts were invited to take the stage.
The concept for the Museum of the Harlem Renaissance to be opened in Madison in the fall of 2014 was also introduced.
“I’m really excited about the Museum. We are really looking forward to next year — after the introduction of the concept — in reminding people of the Harlem Renaissance,” Fox says.
“Unless you are a literature major or African American studies, I suspect there are a lot of people who don’t really know much about the Harlem Renaissance.
It’s such an interesting era.”