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Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II Hardcover – September 10, 2013


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Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II + Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018758
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #532,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Scholar Griffin portrays three groundbreaking, once celebrated, subsequently overlooked African American women artists who were inspired by 1940s Harlem, where creative ferment confronted social injustice. Pearl Primus was a premed student turned soaring dancer and innovative choreographer, who earned her PhD in dance education. Combining “athleticism and grace” to profound effect, Primus drew on African and Caribbean traditions “to represent the dignity and strength of black people and to express their longing for freedom.” Ann Petry, a fourth-generation New Englander, became an editor and columnist for the radical Harlem newspaper, People’s Voice, and channeled her concerns about gender, race, and class inequities into her novel, The Street (1946), “the first book by a black woman to sell a million copies.” Deeply spiritual, highly influential jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams “saw black music as . . . a gift to all humankind because it provided a way through pain and suffering to beauty and joy.” Griffin’s straight-ahead accounts of the remarkable lives of these clarion and valiant artists illuminate their exceptional vision, talent, and resoluteness in overcoming formidable barriers. --Donna Seaman

Review

New York Times Book Review
“The book is a valuable study of a neighborhood whose evolution still offers a window into the black experience in America. It is also a heartfelt tribute to three remarkable artists who ‘were not willing to forget or wholly forgive America’s historical transgressions,’ but who were devoted, Griffin writes, paraphrasing James Baldwin, ‘to helping this nation ‘achieve’ itself.’”

New York Times' Arts Beat
“Griffin breathes life into three prominent women who lived and flourished in a Harlem brimming with clubs like Café Society and with anti-Jim Crow protests.”

Ms. Magazine
“Three black women, drawn to New York during different periods and for different reasons, found themselves in Harlem pursuing successful careers as artists…Using the transformative power of their art, they questioned America’s promise of democracy for all, regardless of race, and expanded the fight for black rights to a global stage. Harlem Nocturne sheds light on these and other neglected activists in the struggle for civil and human rights in the 1940s.”

Choice
“[Harlem Nocturne] tells an important story about race, gender, artistic practice, and the 1940s. It is written for and deserves a broad general readership as well as the attention of students. Highly recommended.”

National Catholic Reporter
“A fond requiem for a section of New York that inspired these artists to create and to work for social justice…an exciting and at times poetically rendered introduction to these artists and to the New York scene in the 1940s.... A fascinating read throughout, Griffin’s Harlem Nocturne demands that we broaden our conception of the ‘greatest generation’ to include these three remarkable women who used their art to wage an important battle on the home front.”

Tuscon Citizen
“This well-crafted book is a literary glimpse into a frequently overlooked period of cultural and political progress for African Americans and women. Griffin is to be commended for dusting off this rich period of history and putting both the events and the people who made it happen into rich historical context.”

NPR.org
“How these women came to prominence, what influences shaped them and how the country gave — and took away — their chances for success and prominence during the heady war years makes for a brisk and engrossing read. Harlem Nocturne is a slim book thick with hidden history”

Bookworm Sez
“If you want to learn more about women and the roots of social justice, Harlem Nocturne will make you dance”

New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog
Harlem Nocturne paints vivid and detailed portraits of three African-American women artists: Pearl Primus, Ann Petry, and Mary Lou Williams. The book brilliantly highlights their lives, work, and activism during the Second World War and beyond. All three sections were fabulous, but I especially enjoyed the section about Ann Petry, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Street.

Journal of American History
Harlem Nocturne is a beautifully written tribute to black women’s creativity in an age of injustice.”

Publishers Weekly
“A discerning assessment.... In placing the women’s artistic endeavors squarely in the context of their political activities in the midst of the Double V Campaign, Griffin adds a fresh and provocative perspective to their creative work…. The book constitutes a giant step to securing the place all three subjects merit in American cultural history. Fully accessible to general readers, it will be mined by future scholars.”

Library Journal
“It is refreshing to learn about Harlem’s history beyond its well-known Renaissance and to be reminded of the essential roles African Americans, women, and artists have played in U.S. history. Readers of African American, U.S., urban, or cultural history and those studying feminism, female artists, and activism will benefit from these stories.”

Kirkus Reviews
"[Griffin] meticulously shows how each woman used and expanded her art to increase awareness of a society that had been ignored and abused too long. Their extraordinary talents ensured that she would find abundant information about each, and Griffin effortlessly relates each story.... An engaging biography of three remarkable women who taught art to reflect life."

Booklist
“Griffin’s straight-ahead accounts of the remarkable lives of these clarion and valiant artists illuminate their exceptional vision, talent, and resoluteness in overcoming formidable barriers.”

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Princeton University, author of In A Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America
“Farah Jasmine Griffin has written, beautifully and powerfully, about the complex intersection of gender, race, and place in the lives of three extraordinary black women. In her delicate hands, Pearl Primus, Ann Petry, and Mary Lou Williams stand as ‘representative women,’ exemplars of imagination at work and of the daunting task of the art of living in trying political times. As we get to know them, their lives narrate a distinctive story that offers us advice about how to live with courage, power, and beauty.”

Gayle Wald, author of Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe
“Readers who accept Farah Jasmine Griffin’s invitation to imagine Harlem in the 1940s through the eyes of three remarkable women—Pearl Primus, Ann Petry, and Mary Lou Williams—will be richly rewarded. Wearing her erudition lightly, Griffin brilliantly illuminates a place and time of enormous hope and achievement. Harlem Nocturne is an inspiring and inspired study of the artistic imagination in conversation with an American democracy tainted by injustice. It is, quite simply, a joy to read.”

Deborah Willis, author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present
“A definitive and arresting account of three women artists. Farah Griffin gathers an array of Harlem stories and incorporates them into a wonderfully written and well-grounded narrative describing the artistic experiences and everyday lives of these three unique women. Harlem Nocturne is both intimate and comprehensive in its exploration of black women’s creativity during World War II. A rich history that investigates the imagination and originality of black women’s expressive culture in mid-20th century America, this book is timely and important.”

Ann Douglas, Parr Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
“In an extraordinary and characteristic combination of historically-grounded imaginative rigor and uncanny alertness to the furthest soundings of her three subjects, Pearl Primus, Ann Petry, and Mary Lou Williams, Farah Griffin elaborates a black female aesthetic, a synthesis of progressive politics and out-of-the-box artistic expression in the worlds of 1940s dance, jazz, and literature, all set against the vivid backdrop of the city they loved and did much to define. Original, moving, and beautifully written, Harlem Nocturne is a major contribution to the study of modern American culture, certain to inform and delight scholars and general readers alike.”

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By asquareinasquare on October 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A famous dancer, a brilliant author, an all-star jazz musician - three women who lived, worked and fought in the forefront of America's struggle for true democracy and became legends in the years when Harlem was filled with roiling political action and change was a mandate they couldn't refuse.

The stories of Peral Primus, Ann Petry and Mary Lou Williams are part of the history of Harlem and this book places them firmly in the context of the greater history of the United States during WWII and the mid-20th Century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on November 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Reading Harlem Nocturne, I was constantly reproving myself for how little I knew about the Double V campaign that took place during World War II here in America. Indeed I had never heard of it before. Double V stands for "Double Victory" and it was an initiative pioneered by leftist and progressive groups trying to convince black American workers to put their backs into the War against Fascists overseas, while pursuing the nascent civil rights struggle at home. As Farah Jasmine Griffin explains, this double campaign was something new; in World War I we learn that black leaders were known to downplay their own political causes in times of national warfare, presumably to show white folks that black men and woman could magnanimously put being "good citizens" ahead of their own basic human rights. Well, no more of that in WWII, at least in Harlem, but Griffin shows how the struggle to keep two separate victory campaigns alive simultaneously was not always easy, perhaps especially for the women artists of the community during the War and in the troubled years immediately afterwards.

Only incidentally is this a biography, but I did ménage to learn far more than I had already learned about the three whom she selects as her principals. Pearl Primus based her modern dance choreography of what she could observe as ordinary black life both in the US and in Africa, insisting on the unbroken chain that linked the two continents. Herself an accomplished dancer, though with a body sometimes dismissed as clunky and short, she could jump straight up into the air five feet or more, from a standing position, a feat that left onlookers amazed.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Griffin has written an excellent book about three intelligent, talented and courageous Black women; Pearl Primus, Ann Petry and Mary Lou Williams, who were leaders and activists during the 1940's. The era in which they lived was full of great expectations as the U.S. struggled with military and ideological warfare at home and abroad. Issues of poverty, racism and sexism were ever present and each of these women addressed these concerns in very unique ways. I am so pleased that Dr. Griffin gave us the opportunity to get to know them better.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Our book club was not prepared for the text book writing style of Harlem Nocturne. For individuals seeking facts on artistic black women in Harlem in the 1940's this book will be helpful.
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The book is an excellent read. Very interesting look at three amazing women women of color during the thirties and forties and beyond.
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