Black Literature, Art, Prose of the 1920s – Available in the Public Domain

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While there are those in the United States who advocate for banning certain books and for removing Black history from the curriculum of some US schools, the public domain protects many important works and makes them available – free of charge. Several examples of Black literature from the 1920s are listed below, accessible through repositories such as Project Gutenberg, Library of Congress, Google Books, and the Internet Archive.

The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. DuBois, banned in some schools and US prisons, is made available through Project Gutenberg.

The Library of Congress holds a collection of work by Zora Neal Hurston, including Meet the Mamma: A Musical Play in Three Acts.

Caroling Dusk, An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets, Edited by Countee Cullen, features works by poets Paul Lawrence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Angelina Weld Grimké, Mary Effie Lee Newsome, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes, among many others.

Porgy, a novel by Du Bose Heyward, published in 1925, was adapted for a play of that name in 1927. In 1935, Mr. Heyward worked with George Gershwin to create an operatic version of the story, titled Porgy and Bess.

Black Opals, available through Internet Archive, presents the works of young Black Americans of “unquestioned talents” who had few venues

through which to share their works. The literary journal was associated with the Harlem Renaissance.

Alain Locke is considered by many to be one of the “architects of the Harlem Reniassance.” Educated at Harvard and Oxford Universities, Mr. Locke was the first Black Rhodes Scholar. His book, The New Negro – An Interpretation, published in 1925, include works of fiction, and poetry, prose and essays, contributed by prominent Black Americans.

The book design and illustrations are by Winold Reiss, a German-born American artist and graphic designer who created portraits of America’s people, including Native, Black, Mexican, and European Americans. From the Winold Reiss website:

“Reiss believed that by picturing the honor, beauty, and dignity of all peoples, his art could help break down racial prejudices and testify to what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called the ‘unity of all creation.’ His wish was to use art to change the world.”

– Jeffrey C. Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at University of California at Santa Barbara and the chair of the Black Studies Department.


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