When Race Mattered
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Published in: September-October 2009 issue.


The Scene of Harlem CabaretThe Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance
by Shane Vogel
University of Chicago Press.  257 pages, $22.

SlummingSlumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940
by Chad Heap
University of Chicago Press.  432 pages, $35.


THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE: scene of scintillating literary salons, endless nightlife, after-hours parties, and a lot of drinking, if Richard Bruce Nugent’s writing is any indication, but it was also a sweatshop of intellectual productivity. The Renaissance writers’ often confessional work was at times treated disdainfully during their lifetimes, labeled the “cabaret school” by some literary critics of their day. Shane Vogel, an assistant professor of English at Indiana University, argues in his densely written The Scene of Harlem Cabaret that the Harlem Renaissance represented a radical break with the past practice of accommodating white racism through what he calls “the politics of normative racial uplift.” Instead they created “a subterranean literary tradition” that explored a new identity encompassing, among other elements, both the racial and sexual self.

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