Harlem Nocturne -- Women Artists & Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin, BasicCivitas '13, $26.99, 242 pages, ASIN #0465018750. Index, notes, sources and selected reading, three appendices, b&w images sprinkled through text.
The Great Migrations of African-Americans from the American South to the North in the first half of the 20th century have proved iconic, not only in changing the American economy through providing jobs for hundreds of thousands but in creatively altering the culture of black America in such fields as fiction, dance, musical composition, and instrumental music.
In her new book, Prof. Farah Jasmine Griffin focuses on three individuals who were a major part of this transformation in Harlem, which she describes as "a vibrant and glamorous neighborhood brimming with creativity and activism:" Novelist Ann Petry, choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus, and composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams. Griffin offers answers to three key questions about their origins:
*How did these women come to live in Harlem? None of the women were actually native New Yorkers. Petro moved to Harlem from Connecticut as a newlywed; Primus's family came to New York from Trinidad when she was three; Williams was born in Atlanta and settled in Harlem after years of travel.
*How did Harlem shape them once they arrived? All were nurtured by the urban institutions and stimulating milieu that flourished in Harlem until the Cold War and advent of McCarthyism. They drew support from political movements such as the Double V Campaign and the Popular Front and were surrounded by fellow artists whose work pushed for social change.
*What kind of achievements were they able to make? These women were considered prominent artists on a local, national, and even international scale during World War II and in the years immediately after. Though they all eventually left New York, their work influenced later generations of artists and inspired future participants in the Civil Rights Movements.
Author Farah Jasmine Griffin is the William B. Ransford Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and African American Studies at Columbia University. She lives in New York.
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, Penguin Books '82 paperback, $8.95, 234 pages, ASIN #8009CRQ3SU.
In 1888, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the heart of the Gilded Age, a transformative novel set America back on its heels. Entitled Looking Backward, it forecast life in the year 2000, when "full employment, material abundance, and social harmony can be found everywhere."
From the back cover:
"This is the America to which Julian West, a young Bostonian, awakens after more than a century of sleep. West's initial sense of wonder, his gradual acceptance of the new order and a new love, and Bellamy's wonderful prophetic inventions -- electric lighting, shopping malls, credit cards, electronic broadcasting -- ensured the mass popularity of this 1888 novel. But however rich in fantasy and romance, Looking Backward is a passionate attack on the social ills of 19th-century industrialism and a plea for social reform and moral renewal.
In her introduction (editor) Cecilia Tichi discusses how the novel echoes the anguish and hopes of its own age while it embodies a sustaining myth of the American literary tradition -- that man's perfectibility is attainable in the New World.
Brothers at War -- The Unending Conflict in Korea by Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Norton '13, $35, 605 pages, ASIN #0393068498. Index, notes, appendix, b&w images sprinkled through text.
"More than 60 years after North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea," writes author Sheila Miyoshi Jager that while "the Korean War has become a forgotten episode in American history. Brothers at War changes that."
A brief excerpt from the dust cover:
"Sheila Miyoshi Jager combines international events with previously unknown personal accounts to create a brilliant new history of that war. From American, Korean, Soviet, and Chinese perspectives, she explores its origins, development, and global implications. Jager narrates an epic story that begins in mid-World War II, when Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill fiercely debated the possibility of Korean independence, and ends in the present day, as North Korea, with China's aid, starves its population as it stockpiles nuclear weapons.
"Drawing on newly accessible archives in several nationals, this is the first account to examine both the military and the social, cultural, and political aspects of the war and its impact across the entire region."
"Sheila Miyoshi Jager earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago and has authored and edited two previous books on Korea and East Asia. She teaches at Oberlin College in Ohio.