Victoria Papa is Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Her research examines the intersection of cultural trauma and experimental aesthetics in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature. She is currently at work on her first book project, Aesthetics of Survival: Modernist Literature and Minoritarian Worldmaking.
After the publication of the well-known sole issue of the Harlem Renaissance journal, FIRE!! A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists (1926), W. E. B. Du Bois wrote to the journal’s cofounder Richard Bruce Nugent and asked, “Why don’t you write more about Negroes?” In response, Nugent quipped, “I write about myself, and I’m a Negro, aren’t I?” (Wirth, “FIRE!! In Retrospect,” n. p.) (figs. 1 & 2). Du Bois’s question to the openly queer and artistically experimental Nugent exemplifies 1920s debates about Black American racial representation that occurred between older and younger Black artists, many of them centered in Harlem.