Jeffery C. Stewart accepts National Book Award on Nov. 14

 

THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION went to Jeffrey C. Stewart for “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke.” Stewart’s definitive biography explores the public influence and private persona of Alain Locke (1885-1954), the gay intellectual and champion of visual artists who is regarded as the dean of the Harlem Renaissance. The National Book Awards were announced Nov. 14 at Cipriani Wall Street.

Stewart began working on his thought-provoking portrait of Locke in the 1990s. The first African American Rhodes Scholar (1907), he was a professor of English at Howard University. After earning a Ph.D., in philosophy from Harvard University in 1918, he later chaired the philosophy department at Howard.

Locke is succinctly introduced on the inside flap of the book: “A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro—the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.”

Alain Locke mentored “a generation of young artists… the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.”

“The New Negro” has received rave reviews and was included among the Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2018 for Nonfiction.

In its review, Harvard Magazine said: “Locke’s achievement—and what is still more fascinating, his complex and contradictory personality—can now be appreciated in full, thanks to a monumental new biography… Drawing extensively on Locke’s correspondence and archive, and offering a richly informed portrait of his milieu, The New Negro is a major biography of a kind that even writers more famous than Locke are lucky to receive.”

Bookforum noted that Locke’s remarkable strides were particularly impressive given they played out in the early 20th century: “Stewart’s sprawling, magisterial labor of love comes as a reminder that in those Birth of a Nation days a century ago, when race relations were far worse than they are now, a fiercely independent philosopher of color set down visions of black American freedom beyond economic agendas, nationalist visions, and political protest. This book draws Alain Locke out of the shadows and bestows his legacy to artists of all colors and genders seeking freedom from narrow-minded expectations and fear-mongering hypocrisy.”

“This book draws Alain Locke out of the shadows and bestows his legacy to artists of all colors and genders seeking freedom from narrow-minded expectations and fear-mongering hypocrisy.” — Bookforum

Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, where he served as chair of the department from 2008-16. When he accepted the National Book Award, Stewart paid tribute to Locke:

“If he was here right now, accepting this award, he wouldn’t have a family with him. As a gay man who lived a closeted life, he had many struggles and one of them was with tremendous, crushing aloneness. And so when I stand here, I think about his achievement and what that was was to create a family among writers and artists and dancers and dramatists and call them the new negro, the basis for a new creative future. Not just for black people, a New Negro for a new America. Thank you, Alain Locke.” CT

 

READ MORE about Alain Locke and Jeffrey Stewart’s portrait of the intellectual cum New Negro

 

BOOKSHELF
“The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke,” Jeffrey C. Stewart’s award-winning biography, was published in February. “The New Negro: An Interpretation,” is a facsimile of Alain Locke’s original 1925 anthology. In addition, Stewart contributed an essay to the exhibition catalog “Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis” and wrote the foreword for “Barthe: A Life in Sculpture.”

 

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