Class Report

Discover the District’s Jazz Age Poets

Teacher: Willona M. Sloan (left), writer/editor
Facilitator: Elena Goukassian

What was the most surprising thing you learned?
Elena: How easy it was for some mixed-race people to pull off being “black” one day and “white” the next. I’d never really thought about it before.

What did you learn that you can put into practice immediately?
Elena: I can dazzle local historians with my advanced knowledge of 1930s D.C. poetry! And I can go check out the historic houses where the great D.C. writers and artists had their salons.

How did you get interested in this subject?
Willona: I was asked to teach D.C.’s Jazz Age Poets as a follow-up to the KCDC class I taught in January on the Harlem Renaissance. I wasn’t familiar with the topic, but I really enjoyed researching the Harlem Renaissance class and learning about all the factors that led up to the artistic and political movement, which spanned the U.S. and Europe but was centered in Harlem. I thought that looking at it from the angle of poets in D.C. would be really powerful.

Also, I grew up in the D.C. area and I love history so I thought it would be fun to learn more about the literary history of African Americans in the city.

What do people tend to wrongly assume about this subject before learning about it?
Willona: That the Harlem Renaissance was the only place where African Americans were creating art during the 1920s. It’s exciting to find writing that was created about certain places and moments in D.C., and to be able to share a narrative about what life was like for blacks who were participating in that vibrant artistic community.

What can people read/watch for more information on this topic?
Willona: I came across some great websites when I was doing research.

The Black Renaissance in Washington, DC.

Kim Roberts has lots of articles about what was happening in D.C. during this time on her Beltway Quarterly website. Here’s a selection on Langston Hughes.

Anyone with a library card can also access the Washington Post archives. I found some early reviews of Langston Hughes’ books that were written in or about D.C., and that was really cool to see.