Looking for Harlem: Urban Aesthetics in African-American Literature

Taking the incredible flowering of African-American literature in the 1920s as its starting point, Looking for Harlem offers a cogent and persuasive new reading of a diverse range of twentieth-century black American writing. From the streets, subways, hotels and cabarets of New York's Harlem and Chicago's Southside, Maria Balshaw moves beyond the canon to encompass often neglected writing by Rudolph Fisher, Wallace Thurman and Claude McKay, as well as the more familiar work of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Nella Larsen and Toni Morrison. In a provocative revision of African-American literary history, Balshaw examines the creation of an `urban aesthetic' and explores the links between the engagement with the city and fictional reconstructions of racial identity and race writing. Focusing on the material culture of the city, the visual sense of the urban environment, the class dynamics of urban culture and the crucial importance of consumerism, this study presents a critically astute, challenging and very welcome new approach to a much-studied area of contemporary American fiction.