During the early Harlem Renaissance, African-American artists and writers seeking to publish their works turned to periodicals created, edited, and produced by other African Americans. The sheer variety in the content and tone of these many publications revealed the diverse and sometimes opposing social and political attitudes among prominent African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. When artists and writers did not find the appropriate periodical to publish their work among the many existing publications, they would often take matters into their own hands and create new periodicals to reflect their particular views.

In 1910, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People launched The Crisis, with scholar W. E. B. Du Bois at the helm as editor. Through The Crisis, Du Bois was able to provide a way for the so-called "talented tenth" of the African-American population to evidence their abilities and creativity. Booker T. Washington's influence loomed large over New York Age, a weekly newspaper edited by James Weldon Johnson that promoted racial pride and self-improvement. Another publication was The National Urban League's Opportunity, established in 1923. Edited by Charles S. Johnson, Opportunity promoted contests for promising young black writers. Also in the 1920s, the Universal Negro Improvement Association published the Negro World, which was founded on Marcus Garvey's philosophy of black consciousness, self-help, and economic independence. Eminent black writers and editors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Arthur Schomburg contributed to The Negro World.

Although these publications were among the first to be written and produced by African Americans, they did not escape criticism; many writers and artists disagreed with their conservative stance. Activists A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen expressed their frustration with conservative black intellectuals like Du Bois and Washington by starting The Messenger in 1917. In its pages, they denounced racism in the U.S. and openly criticized Du Bois for being too accommodating to white society. In fact, they often published works that were rejected by The Crisis. Not surprisingly, The Messenger was met with heavy criticism by Du Bois.

Still other artists and writers wanted to publish "art for art's sake" without explicit ties to a political agenda. In 1926, several key figures of the Harlem Renaissance created a literary and visual arts journal in response to publications by the older generation of black intellectuals, which they felt propagandized the New Negro. Fire!! A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro, was published through a collaboration between Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Bennett, Richard Bruce Nugent, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas and John Davis. Due to controversy and financial constraints, only one issue of Fire!! was published.

After Fire!! failed, Wallace Thurman invited Hughes, Nugent, Douglas, Alain Locke, and others to publish their works in Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life in 1928, but like its predecessor, it did not garner enough support to last for more than one issue.

Only one serial particularly one issue was able to bridge many different social and cultural voices in Harlem. In 1924, Survey magazine editor Paul Kellogg asked Alain Locke to edit a special issue devoted to the African-American "Renaissance" for the monthly illustrated number of the magazine, Survey Graphic. This issue contained works by many of the premiere writers of the day, and only one year later, its contents were re-published and expanded in the New Negro anthology, a collection still published and read widely today.

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