This book could start its own Renaissance.
The first biography of Harlem Renaissance writer Eric Walrond will hit shelves later this month, shedding light on a literature pioneer who isn’t as well-known as his friends Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.
“He’s one of the figures who is ubiquitous in discussions of the Harlem Renaissance, but he’s usually buried in a list of secondary figures,” said author James Davis, who teaches English at Brooklyn College.
“He’s never really been given a full biographical treatment,” Davis, 46, added.
Walrond immigrated to New York from Panama in 1918. He penned “Tropic Death,” his only book and one of the first portrayals of Caribbean characters in American literature, while living in Harlem.
He later died in obscurity in London in 1966.
Now Davis is bringing Walrond back to life with a tome that took him six years to research and write.
Walrond first made his mark in Harlem working as a reporter and editor at a Marcus Garvey-affiliated newspaper, but he grew disillusioned with Garvey’s movement by 1923 and joined Charles S. Johnson’s National Urban League journal Opportunity.
Residing at W. 137th St. and 7th Ave. for much of his time in the area, Walrond started an influential group known as the Writer’s Guild and pressed Johnson to back a March 1924 dinner in Greenwich Village with emerging writers, influential publishers and civil rights leaders.
“There are a lot of ways that you can tell the narrative of the Harlem Renaissance, but historians look at that as a flashpoint,” Davis said.
“He was much more involved in that event than people realize.”
But even after achieving notoriety and three fellowships after “Tropic Death” was published in 1926, the writer left New York two years later.
The book allows for a greater understanding of what became of Walrond, said New York University historian David Levering-Lewis.
“It’s a gorgeous book, and it’s detective work that is really exceptional,” Levering-Lewis said.
Walrond’s legacy lives on through his surviving work and the many Caribbean-Americans of African descent who call Harlem home today.
“When you look at Harlem, Harlem is composed of all these cultures,” said Marta Moreno Vega, president of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in East Harlem.
“It’s very textured in terms of the population and the cultural community,” Moreno Vega added. “The Harlem Renaissance is really a celebration of all these cultures coming together.”
“Eric Walrond” from Columbia University Press is now available at the publisher’s website and will hit bookstores Feb. 24.
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