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TALK | A Long Way From Prague: The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Ethnicity

January 5, 2018

Charles Sabatos | A Long Way From Prague: The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Ethnicity

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 | 3:30 – 5:00pm | CMU 218D

The connections between Europe’s small nations and America’s minorities offer marginalized perspectives on modernist cultural development that have so far remained largely unexplored. During the period of the Harlem Renaissance, African-American intellectuals were keenly aware of global political developments, but their models of liberation were drawn less from colonized Africa than from territories such as Central and Eastern Europe that had recently been freed from imperial rule. Democratic and multicultural Czechoslovakia, in particular, provided these writers with an example of self-determination that was later obscured by the Cold War division of Europe. Locke’s comparison of Harlem as the capital of the “New Negro’ with Prague as the capital of the “New Czechoslovakia,” which is frequently cited but rarely interpreted, can be traced to the journal Survey Graphic, which featured special issues on both cities. Langston Hughes features a poet from Prague in one of his most enigmatic short stories, “Luani of the Jungles,” and evokes the wartime suffering of the Czechs in his later politically engaged writing. Together with Hughes’s influence on the Czech poet Ivan Blatný, these references demonstrate that the relationship of the Czechs and other small nations to the European powers, and the struggle of African-Americans within American society, had inter-ethnic parallels that were familiar to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Charles Sabatos is associate professor of comparative literature at Yeditepe Univeresity in Istanbul, Turkey. He received his M.A. from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Sabatos is the translator of Pavel Vilikovský’s Ever Green Is… (Northwestern, 2002) and has published translations of several other Slovak authors, including Ján Uličiansky and Peter Karpinský.