Rethinking Social Realism
African American Art and Literature, 1930–1953

Stacy I. Morgan

Literature and art as agents of social change for poor and working-class Americans


"Stacy I. Morgan has given us an original, insightful, and compelling examination of black culture workers from the depression to the cold war. By identifying the importance of social realism as a movement for black artists and their role in helping to shape and inform that movement, Morgan demands a reconsideration of this important period. He reminds us that these visual artists, novelists, and poets were consciously aware of their participation in a broad-based movement to engage questions of racial and class inequities. While many here are known for their individual achievements, Morgan reminds us that together they formed a community of activist-artists. A bold and important book, Rethinking Social Realism is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship at its best. It is sure to set the direction for future studies of this kind."
—Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery

"In the canon of African American culture Stacy Morgan's Rethinking Social Realism is an important analysis of the 1930s as a significant period of development in African American art and literature—a period in which the artists and writers moved away from a focus on the evolving black middle class as a subject to a more sympathetic focus of visualizing and writing about the common man. This focus was a component in the search for a wholly 'American Art.' . . . This book is a precursor to explaining the significant focus on realism in the African American art of the sixties, seventies, and eighties."
—Deborah Willis, Professor of Photography and Imaging, New York University

More / Hide

The social realist movement, with its focus on proletarian themes and its strong ties to New Deal programs and leftist politics, has long been considered a depression-era phenomenon that ended with the start of World War II. This study explores how and why African American writers and visual artists sustained an engagement with the themes and aesthetics of social realism into the early cold war-era--far longer than a majority of their white counterparts.

Stacy I. Morgan recalls the social realist atmosphere in which certain African American artists and writers were immersed and shows how black social realism served alternately to question the existing order, instill race pride, and build interracial, working-class coalitions. Morgan discusses, among others, such figures as Charles White, John Wilson, Frank Marshall Davis, Willard Motley, Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Elizabeth Catlett, and Hale Woodruff.

Page count: 368 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $30.95

buy button
View Shopping Cart

Stacy I. Morgan is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Alabama.