The New Negro: The Life Of Alain Locke
A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro — the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.
In The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart offers the definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally. He narrates the education of Locke, including his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard University, and his long career as a professor at Howard University. Locke also received a cosmopolitan, aesthetic education through his travels in continental Europe, where he came to appreciate the beauty of art and experienced a freedom unknown to him in the United States. And yet he became most closely associated with the flowering of Black culture in Jazz Age America and his promotion of the literary and artistic work of African Americans as the quintessential creations of American modernism. In the process he looked to Africa to find the proud and beautiful roots of the race. Shifting the discussion of race from politics and economics to the arts, he helped establish the idea that Black urban communities could be crucibles of creativity. Stewart explores both Locke’s professional and private life, including his relationships with his mother, his friends, and his white patrons, as well as his lifelong search for love as a gay man.
Stewart’s thought-provoking biography recreates the worlds of this illustrious, enigmatic man who, in promoting the cultural heritage of Black people, became — in the process — a New Negro himself.
“Locke represents a biographical challenge of unusual difficulty. Superbly educated, dazzlingly intelligent, psychologically complicated, and a cultural analyst and visionary whose books and essays helped to shape our understanding of race and modern American culture, Locke could also be petty and vindictive, manipulative and cruel. Also stamping his identity was his brave commitment to living fully as a gay man, despite its various dangers. Jeffrey Stewart, rising superbly to this challenge, has given us one of the finest literary biographies to appear in recent years.” – Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University
“Jeffrey Stewart’s long anticipated biography of the enigmatic Alain Locke fulfills its promise-and then some. It is magnificent! A panoramic portrait of one of the great thinkers, teachers, and literary entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century, The New Negro sheds fresh light on the intellectual firmament whose brightest star discovered African American modernism in an era of cosmopolitanism, colonialism, and catastrophe, and the man whose complex and tragic life left him defeated, unfulfilled, and underappreciated. . . . until now.” – Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
“More than an account of Locke’s professional and academic life, Stewart’s book offers an integrated vision of Locke’s professional and personal life and many details on the innermost aspects of Locke’s personal life. This is without question one of the most comprehensive and insightful biographies of an important African American intellectual. Readers will be greatly rewarded for investing their time in its penetrating and revealing pages.”- Jacoby Carter, CUNY John Jay College
“Stewart creates a poignant portrait of a formidable yet flawed genius who navigated the cultural boundaries and barriers of his time while nurturing an enduring African-American intellectual movement.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“A magisterial biography… it brilliantly doubles as a history of the philosophical debates that girded black artistic triumphs early in the 20th century. A sweeping biography that gets deep into not just the man, but the movements he supported, resisted, and inspired.”–Kirkus, Starred Review
“[A] comprehensive, richly contextualized portrait of a key writer, educator, philosopher, and supporter of the arts.”–Booklist, Starred Review
“The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke is a vitally important, astonishingly well researched, exhaustive biography of the brilliant, complex, flawed, utterly fascinating man who, if he did not start the movement, served as its curator, intellectual champion, and guiding spirit… It is difficult to imagine a more able chronicler of Alain Locke’s singular journey than Mr. Stewart.”–Wall Street Journal
“In describing Locke’s life as a black man, a thinker and fighter in social causes, and a homosexual, Stewart… must in a way describe many different Alain Lockes. That such a gripping and cohesive narrative could be forged out of such fractured material is no mean accomplishment… Locke himself was constantly re-inventing in a life that defied easy categorization. Jeffrey Stewart has written the definitive study that life has always warranted – and, fittingly, he’s made it excellent reading in the process.”–Christian Science Monitor
“Majestic… [The New Negro is] a master class in how to trace the lineage of a biographical subject’s ideas and predilections. The attachment and longing Locke experienced in relationships with his mother, friends and lovers exerted as much influence on his work as the texts he read and lectures he attended. One finishes Stewart’s book haunted by the realization that this must be true for us all.”–New York Times Book Review
“Locke’s achievement–and what is still more fascinating, his complex and contradictory personality–can now be appreciated in full, thanks to a monumental new biography… Drawing extensively on Locke’s correspondence and archive, and offering a richly informed portrait of his milieu, The New Negro is a major biography of a kind that even writers more famous than Locke are lucky to receive.”–Harvard Magazine
“A masterpiece of sustained craft, research, and historical scope.”–New York Journal of Books
“Stewart’s sprawling, magisterial labor of love comes as a reminder that in those Birth of a Nation days a century ago, when race relations were far worse than they are now, a fiercely independent philosopher of color set down visions of black American freedom beyond economic agendas, nationalist visions, and political protest. This book draws Alain Locke out of the shadows and bestows his legacy to artists of all colors and genders seeking freedom from narrow-minded expectations and fear-mongering hypocrisy.”
“The New Negro is a nuanced biography of a complicated, important figure in black and queer cultural history… Those brave enough to plunge in… will find much of interest to take away.”–The Gay & Lesbian Review