Jeffrey Stewart Wins a National Book Award for His Biography of Alain Locke

Jeffrey C. Stewart, a professor in the department of Black studies at the University of California,  Santa Barbara, has won the National Book Award for nonfiction for his book, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press, 2018).

The award-winning book is a biography of the African American philosopher and activist who was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Locke was the first African American selected for a Rhodes Scholarship and taught philosophy at historically Black Howard University for almost 40 years. He believed that the path to equality for African Americans was through self-improvement and the arts. However, despite his accomplishments, Locke is not well known today. According to Dr. Stewart, “He’s under-appreciated and kind of an invisible man.”

The biography recounts the difficulties that Locke faced throughout his life including his struggles as a gay man in a time long before it was acceptable and the death of his mother. Dr. Stewart also writes about Locke’s philosophies and beliefs including his disapproval of protest as the primary approach to achieve racial integration and his advocacy for African art.

“As a gay man who lived a closeted life, he had many struggles, and one of them was with tremendous, crushing aloneness,” Stewart says. “So when I stand here I think about his achievement, and what that was to create a family among writers and artists and dancers and dramatists, and call them The New Negro. The basis for a new creative future — and not just for Black people. A new Negro, for new America.”

Dr. Stewart has been a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 2008. He holds a master’s degreeand a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University.

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  1. I am about 2/3 of the way into this awesome scholarly, easily read work of art. I was not familiar with the “aesthete” and so many other terms used to describe the unique life of Alain Locke. In fact, I was so moved, that I went out on the internet and found Professor Stewart at various events and I was enthralled by his insight.

    At times, I have to put the book down and close my eyes and remember the time and try to visualize America during Professor Locke’s time as Professor Stewart has depicted it. So, so special a book, I want to ruminate on every episode, digest slowly; the end is coming too soon. “Salute and thank you, Jeffrey Stewart!! HU, in da house!

    • What a great book. Transports you to a time when African Americans depended almost entirely on each other for creative energy. A great and heavy read.

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