Learn how publications provided new opportunities for black writers in On the Harlem Newsstand: Vehicles for Many Voices.

 

Fire!!

 

 
 
 

 


The Kennedy Center
ARTSEDGE
Marco Polo
This resource was created in March 2003 by ARTSEDGE. All rights reserved.
ARTSEDGE is a project of the Education Department of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
and is a member of the MarcoPolo Partnership
Read the Foreword of Fire!!.

The 267 House—a rent-free residence at 267 West 136th Street—was the home and gathering place of writer Wallace Thurman and a circle of other artists and bohemians.

In this environment, Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Aaron Douglas discussed the need for a literary magazine that would celebrate art for art's sake. The group wanted to break free of the sociopolitical motivations of W. E. B. Du Bois and Charles S. Johnson. Their discussions ignited Fire!!—an avant garde publication whose first issue came out in 1926.

"Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists," Fire!! explored topics that Talented Tenth leaders had ignored: jazz and blues, homosexuality, free-form verse, and a concept of black beauty independent of Western ideals. Nugent satirized Madam Walker's popular hair straightener by drawing figures with Nordic features and African hair. In Hurston's biting play "Color Struck," her characters travel to a cakewalk contest in a Jim Crow train coach. Other Fire!! entries included poetry by Hughes and Countee Cullen, illustrations of a pre-slavery Africa by Douglas, and Thurman's story "Cordelia the Crude" (later adapted into the Broadway hit Harlem).

Although Fire!! was a thought-provoking collection of great works, many African-American critics—predictably and particularly, the Talented Tenth—viewed the effort as decadent and vulgar. At Craig's restaurant on 135th Street, where Nugent and Hughes had kicked around early ideas for such a magazine, diners gave Fire!! contributors the silent treatment.

With its hefty cover price of one dollar, the magazine failed to sell enough copies to recoup its production cost of $1,000. Thurman, the principal backer of Fire!!, fell into such deep debt that co-workers at the World Tomorrow magazine had to buy him a new coat. The first issue of Fire!! was also its last. Thurman worked hard for the next four years to repay the printer. Ironically, several hundred copies of Fire!! burned in an accidental blaze.


Langston Hughes' "Elevator Boy" was published in Fire!!.
Countee Cullen published "From the Dark Tower" in it.
Aaron Douglas' illustrations in Fire!! depicted an unharmed Africa.
It included Zora Neale Hurston's play Color Struck and her short story "Sweat."
Wallace Thurman edited and financed Fire!!.
 

 

 

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Langston Hughes' "Elevator Boy" was published in Fire!!.
Countee Cullen published "From the Dark Tower" in it.
Aaron Douglas' illustrations in Fire!! depicted an unharmed Africa.
It included Zora Neale Hurston's play Color Struck and her short story "Sweat."
Wallace Thurman edited and financed Fire!!.
 
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