"There Was A Vividness Of Life, An Intensity Of Being...": Recovering 'The Lost Years' of the 1940s-1960s in African American Literature & Culture

My project works to recover the “lost years” of the 1940s-1960s in African
American literature and culture. Specifically, I turn to three critically
neglected African American poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and
Melvin Tolson and their mid-century poetry to examine, formally as well as
historically, how they represent the stories and lives of black women and
men who helped to create and then lived in the postwar black urban
communities of Chicago’s Bronzeville, Detroit’s Paradise Valley and New
York’s Harlem. The dominant story of race, housing conditions and
representation in the postwar city is one of urban crisis, black
invisibility and the formation of the blighted “black ghetto.” I argue
that these three African American poets tell the stories of growth, hope
and possibility in the postwar city and use long form poems or poetic
sequences to create composite portraits of burgeoning, variegated and
complex black urban communities. They revive stories of black city life by
experimenting with and pushing the limits and possibilities of narrative
and characterization in the modernist long poem, revising and expanding
upon a form that has been considered the exclusive domain of white male
modernists to tell other city stories. Making visible these writers, their
neomodernist work and the vivid communities of which they wrote begins the
process of recovering this period in African American literature and