New Book to Explore the “Chicago Renaissance”

Jacqueline Goldsby, associate professor of English language and literature at the University of Chicago, is conducting research on an early twentieth century phenomenon that has had a profound effect on the African-American literary tradition. The period she is examining is not the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s but rather what she calls the Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s through the 1950s.

Professor Goldsby traces the origins of the Chicago Renaissance to Vivian Harsh, the first African American to be named director of a branch of the city’s public library system. Beginning in 1933, Harsh held her weekly Book Review and Lecture Forum at the George Cleveland Hall Branch in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Over the course of the next two decades, thousands of black Americans attended the weekly forums and heard authors and poets such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, Lorraine Hansberry, and Zora Neale Hurston. At these same forums local African-American writers joined the black literary luminaries of that time to read their own works at the weekly forums.

Professor Goldsby says that these “communal, non-hierarchical, non-elite exchanges represented a decisive break from the East Coast tradition of privatized, enclosed, exclusionary dialogue, particularly within African-American literary societies.”

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Professor Goldsby earned her Ph.D. at Yale University. She has been on the faculty at the University of Chicago since 2000. She is the author of the 2006 book A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature.