Self-Fashioning in the Harlem Renaissance

A large part of the Harlem Renaissance was a reclamation of control over the Black narrative and we see how that narrative differs across authors and publications. 

A large part of what makes Opportunity a magazine that is seemingly the pulse of Harlem at the Harlem Renaissance is this emphasis on its intentions. How Opportunity differs itself from other periodicals like the Crisis, is its explicit intentions of affirming the newfound Black identity; the demand for social change is not only evident but it’s intended to provoke a conversation. Crisis had an image that was heavily surveilled by W.E.B DuBois, he often had a say in the images that went on the covers but the the photographers and subjects in photos remained uncredited. The Crisis was largely about presenting to audiences what DuBois had to say than a medley of art with multiple contributors of equal importance.  Opportunity is a hodgepodge of nonfiction writing and poetry, in some ways it’s a publication that understands that change is dynamic and there is no singular way to approach change.Change could be inspired by the vision that DuBois laid out in The Crisis with Black folk depicted engaging with art and sports but our humanity can still be demonstrated in other ways. 

Countee Cullen, contributing poet to Opportunity, writes poems that often channel abstractions like desire and heartbreak. Cullen’s poetry details the inherent desire to love and be loved. Countee Cullen’s poetry suggests that The New Negro can be sensitive and have the capacity to love someone intimately. How does knowing that Countee Cullen was gay help us read his poetry to interpret themes that are relevant to Black Queer studies?

“Love in Ruins” is a poem that laments a love that once was. Lines like “Love for a meager space deigned to allow” can doubly apply to Blackness as well the queer experience. On one hand this poem can be articulating oppressive structures that threaten the burgeoning Black identity that thrives on community and self-love. On the other hand, this could be a poem grieving a queer relationship that was concealed in shame and unsustainable. I believe that both ideas eclipse within this poem and throughout Cullen’s other works. We wouldn’t be able to observe how his lyricism addresses layers of identity if it weren’t periodicals like Opportunity that democratized the voice of the Harlem Renaissance.