Friday, January 30, 2015


Happy New Year! It's winter, and cold for many in the northern parts of the world. Wouldn't you like to relax by the fire, perhaps reading the first and only issue of the magazine devoted to younger Negro artists, FIRE!!?

In November 1926, during the highpoint of the Harlem Renaissance, three talented artists decided to light a fire in the world of magazine publication. These three - Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman - have come to be considered some of the finest writers of history. For the creation of Fire!!, Langston Hughes said that its mission was "to burn up a lot of the old, dead conventional Negro-white ideas of the past ... into a realization of the existence of the younger Negro writers and artists, and provide us with an outlet for publication not available in the limited pages of the small Negro magazines then existing."

At that time, there was contention caused between the cult of young, unconventional Negro artists and a Black leadership class referred to as The Talented Tenth, whose most prominent figure was Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. This contention manifested itself mostly socially - the Talented Tenth were more concerned with portraying intelligence, reserve, and a conservative comportment, perhaps most likely in an attempt to break away from the white stereotypes of Blacks that were developed during the times of slavery. Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and many other Harlem Renaissance artists disagreed, and opted to display a more diverse, real, raw image of Black culture, in an attempt to perhaps romanticize the diversity of that culture, as well as highlight how such diversity can yield honest, passionate art. Aaron Douglas stated: 
"... Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting Black ... Let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it."
After a mixed reaction of the first issue of Fire!! (mostly by Black intellectuals), its publishing quarters burnt down, destroying many of the original first prints. What were the origins of this ironic yet real-life fire?