Outline of: “The Man Who Led the Harlem Renaissance—and His Hidden Hungers” by Toby Haslett of The New Yorker
In this article, The New Yorker writer Toby Haslett aims to recount the life and cultural significance of Alain Locke, an African American artist who helped launched black modernism. In the tagline of the article, meant to catch the attention of the reader in a quick, summarizing sentence, Haslett manages to convey the tone of the article pretty well. We’re told he’s accomplished, but that one of his critical character flaws is how he “was spurred by the artists he wished to turn into lovers.”
A picture of Alain Locke as photographed by Gordon Parks is provided just before the article’s introductory paragraph. This provides the reader with an image that can be stored in their memory and mentally referred to whenever his name appears through the article again. The photo’s caption summarizes Locke’s position in an increasingly political world. He was an aesthete, someone who has an appreciation for aesthetics in art and beauty. In the picture, he astutely observes a marble head statue. In his own way, describes the author, Locke is there with bright, taut prettiness, clenching the muscles of his face delicately. His mere gaze is a testament to his fascination with art, as his face held a “melancholy balance” of philosophy and history, poetry, loneliness, and longing.
The article then goes on to explain the process in which he and a number of other famous and influential black artists of the time brought about the inception of a new style. It was the Negro Renaissance, and it was made up of the “swank, gritty, fractious style of blackness streaking through the modern world.” Author Haslett begins this story with an account of Locke’s interaction with poet Langston Hughes. It was one of the first times that Locke developed deep feelings for what should’ve been a mere co-worker. Before the article begins Locke’s biography in a typical, chronological manner, Haslett starts with this account to set the tone for what will be the rest of Locke’s career – success at the price of infatuation with those with which he reached that success.
This is an interesting format to begin the biographical article in, as one would typically start at Locke’s birth before diving into the details of his career and those he encountered later in life. Alain Locke was born on September 13, 1885 to a family of “black Victorians” – well-off African Americans of the upper middle class. He later becomes a graduate of Harvard Law School, but faced discrimination in the workplace, experiencing a series of wrongful firings that “scrambled [his] family’s finances.”
Then, the influence surrounding his household is described. His family expected him to be a race leader, “cultivating” him as such. He was expected to be a “metallic structure of polished masculinity.” Therefore, he’d commit himself to various roles once in Harvard. Haslett manages to transition this into the topic of his lovers, and his in particular his failed attempts at love.
These failed attempts at love were a direct result of his desultory nature. The article, however, goes on to explain how these experiences contributed to his style of “lavish, stylish, jaunty, tart; bristling with whimsy and gleaming with sex.” He was inspired to bring voices that challenged his own in his latest project of The New Negro. “Capital of the Black Middle Class,” an ambivalent study of Durham, North Carolina, by E. Franklin Frazier, a young social scientist, was one of the included works.
The article begins transitioning into its conclusion paragraphs by outlining how even after the successful New Negro, Locke was “still driven by a need for order, for meticulous systems.” It was to be a book entitled The Negro in American Culture. Described by Haslett as “a fixture of his later letters,” Negro in American Culture served either as an excuse for his lack of presence or as something to show off before a prospect of sexual nature.
But the story ends tragically.
Haslett closes by mentioning how he couldn’t finish the thing. This was due to his failing health and being “stretched between too many obligations.” Lastly, he was “consumed […] by the torment of unrequited love.”
Locke died on June 9, 1954.
Link to original article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/21/the-man-who-led-the-harlem-renaissance-and-his-hidden-hungers?irgwc=1&source=affiliate_impactpmx_12f6tote_desktop_VigLink&mbid=affiliate_impactpmx_12f6tote_desktop_VigLink