Liesl Olson, Newberry Library | Newberry

Liesl Olson, Newberry Library

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5-7 pm

Towner Fellows’ Lounge

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Literature Seminar

“White City, Black Metropolis”
Liesl Olson, Newberry Library

This paper begins with a look at the relationship between Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright within the larger context of the Chicago Black Renaissance. Drawing upon new and extensive archival research, the paper maps out what was distinctive about Chicago’s literary culture at this time-especially in comparison to Harlem. It tells a story of interracial collaborations supported by the Works Progress Administration, and explores the question of how black writers conceived of an audience for their writing, when they were dependent upon white publishers. Ultimately the paper puts forth two claims: that the art and literature of Bronzeville balanced the aims of social realism with the experimental forms of literary modernism; and that the Chicago Black Renaissance was a movement with its own distinctive energy even as it was informed by a set of aesthetic concerns characteristic to Chicago more broadly.

Writers and artists discussed in the paper include: Nelson Algren, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Horace Cayton, Jack Conroy, Eldzier Cortor, Ralph Ellison, Vivian Harsh, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Wayne Miller, Inez Stark, Gertrude Stein, Era Bell Thompson, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright.

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.