Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists
Date of Publication:
November 1926 (1.1)
Place(s) of Publication:
New York, NY
Frequency of Publication:
Fire!! Board of Editors
Fire!! had a bright red cover with Primitivist, cubist-inspired art by Aaron Douglas. Inside covers were ads for other little magazines: New Masses in the front, Opportunity in the back. Within Fire‘s 48 pages were sections entirely devoted to visual and literary arts, with subdivisions for poetry, drawing, short fiction, plays, and a brief editorial comment.
$1 per issue
Zora Neale Hurston
Libraries with Original Issues:
New York Public Library; University of Texas, Austin; California State University, Los Angeles;
Metuchen, New Jersey: FIRE!! Press, 1982
Westport, Connecticut: Negro University Press, 1970
Nendeln, Lichtenstein: Kraus Reprint Co.
Fire!! was instigated in 1926 by Wallace Thurman and a few struggling artists looking for their niche in the literary and artistic movement now known as the Harlem Renaissance. While other magazines of the period were more concerned with social and political ills, artist and contributor Aaron Douglas claimed that Fire!! was different: “We are all under thirty. We have no get-rich-quick complexes. We espouse no new theories of racial advancement, socially economically or politically. We have no axes to grind. […] We are primarily and intensely devoted to art” (qtd. in Kirschke 78).
Although the contributors were more concerned with literary and visual images – especially those related to the creation of a vibrant youth culture – their apolitical declaration was a political stance in and of itself. Within the pages of this radical little magazine, contributors accepted all levels of class, race, gender and sexuality that other magazines of the period would deem illicit and “disreputable [for] more proper Afro-Americans” (Johnson 80). Langston Hughes admitted that the creators of Fire!! wanted “‘to express’ themselves ‘freely and independently – without interference from old heads, white or Negro,’ and specifically that they hoped ‘to provide… an outlet for publishing not existing in the hospitable but limited pages of The Crisis or Opportunity‘” (Johnson 77, 78). The contributors wanted to display the dark, unreported realities of black life – as Thurman stated, to “go to the proletariat rather than to the bourgeoisie for characters and material… [to those] who still retained some individual race qualities and who were not totally white American in every respect save color of skin” (Goeser 89). Fire!!‘s depiction of authentic African-American youth culture valued life experience and individualism as education, and did not limit their scope to the pre-professional university programs that upwardly mobile African-Americans paraded through their magazines.
Fire!! was received with mixed reviews. Opportunity “endorsed the journal enthusiastically,” whereas The Crisis ignored it, as did most white-owned presses (Johnson 82). Alain Locke criticized Fire!! within the pages of Survey, and Rean Graves had only harsh words to say. Of Aaron Douglas’ drawings, he said that the artist, “in spite of himself and the meaningless grotesqueness of his creations, has gained a reputation as an artist, [and] is permitted to spoil three perfectly good pages and a cover with his pen and ink hudge pudge” (Goeser 158). The illustrations were not the only recipients of Graves’ scathing remarks – he dismissed the entire publication: “I have just tossed the first issue of Fire— into the fire, and watched the cackling flames leap and snarl as though they were trying to swallow some repulsive dose” (Johnson 83).
After the publication and reviews of the first number, the necessary funds for a continuation of the magazine were unavailable, and Fire!! ceased after its first publication. Ironically, the bulk of the copies left unsold were “burned to ashes in the basement of the apartment in which it was stored,” adding additional humor to the editor’s sendoff on autographed copies: “Flamingly, Wallace Thurman” (Johnsno 79).
In place of a clear manifesto, the Fire!! contributors composed a more artistic statement of purpose:
FIRE… flaming, burning, searing, and penetrating far beneath the superficial items of the flesh to boil the sluggish blood.
FIRE… a cry of conquest in the night, warning those who sleep and revitalizing those who linger in the quiet places dozing.
FIRE… melting steel and iron bars, poking livid tongues between stone apertures and burning wooden opposition with a cackling chuckle of contempt.
FIRE… weaving vivid, hot designs upon an ebon bordered loom and satisfying pagan thirst for beauty unadorned… the flesh is sweet and real… the soul an inward flush of fire…. Beauty?… flesh on fire–on fire in the furnace of life blazing….
Fy-ah gonna burn ma soul!”
Fire!!. 1:1 (Nov. 1926): 1.
Wallace Henry Thurman (Aug. 16, 1902 – Dec. 22, 1934)
From an early age Wallace Thurman possessed a great appetite for reading and writing. Langston Hughes even called him “strangely brilliant” for his ability to read a great number of works in a short time (Klotman). Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, he chose to move to the East Coast in 1925 after his first little magazine, Outlet, failed to last more than six months. After a year in Harlem he financed the publication of Fire!!, which only lasted one issue. The same fate awaited Thurman’s next little magazine, Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life. His Harlem play garnered more success, but reflected the same decadence Thurman’s personal life contained: “illicit sex, liquor, wild parties thrown to collect rent money, and gambling” (Klotman). Like Fire!!, his play simultaneously portrayed the reality and worst aspects of black life. Thurman died of tuberculosis in 1934 after collapsing during a reunion party on his return to New York from California.
Langston Hughes (Feb. 1, 1901 – May 22, 1967)
Associate Editor: 1926
Born in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was a prolific writer and well-known figure of the Harlem Renaissance. His career as “Poet Laureate of Harlem” produced multiple volumes of poetry that include “Dream Deferred,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I, Too,” and novels including Not Without Laughter. Music, particularly jazz and blues, influenced much of Hughes’s work; this musical influence allowed him to imitate “the sound cadence, and rhythms of the blues style as well as [to capture] the humor, despair, and loneliness depicted in the music,” especially with vernacular dialogue (CLC). Hughes is also known for his depiction of African-Americans’ struggles in the modern world. Hughes died of congestive heart failure on May 22, 1967.
Zora Neale Hurston (Jan. 7, 1891 – Jan. 28, 1960)
Associate Editor: 1926
Although at her death in 1960 she was virtually unheard of, Zora Neale Hurston has gained posthumous acclaim for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which Alice Walker helped bring to fame. Having grown up in “the first incorporated all-black town in America,” Hurston had a sense of pride “not tragically colored”; her work was a “celebration of black cultural heritage” that equated “home-spun vernacular and street-corner cosmology […with] grammar and philosophy of white, Western culture” (“Hurston”). This viewpoint likely helped her as she traveled the country collecting folklore. The “blacklove” exhibited in her famed novel drew from these bits of local color, but her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, reveals unflattering racial views that probably did little to foster a widespread black audience in her own time.
Gwendolyn Bennett (July 8, 1902 – May 20, 1981)
Associate Editor: 1926
Gwendolyn Bennett was considered one of the “most promising” poets, but today only a few of her works are in print and she is considered a minor figure of the Harlem Renaissance (Daniel “Bennet”). Even less information is known about her visual artistic efforts. Bennett’s greatest claim to fame is her column “The Ebony Flute” in Opportunity. The column is a brief chronicle of the regular news in the artistic “who’s who” of Harlem.
Aaron Douglas (May 26, 1899 – Feb. 2, 1979)
Associate Editor: 1926
When Aaron Douglas moved to Harlem in 1925 from Topeka, Kansas, he quickly became involved with the Harlem Renaissance; he would come to be considered “the most significant visual artist” of the period and “the father of African-American art” (DeLombard “Douglas”). His illustrations generally resembled woodcuts, and they “blended elements of art deco, art nouveau, cubism, Egyptian art, and West African sculpture” (DeLombard). In his later years Douglas was the president of the Harlem Artists Guild and the chairman of Fisk University’s Art Department.
Richard Bruce Nugent (July 2, 1906 – May 27, 1987)
Associate Editor: 1926
Richard Bruce Nugent can be best remembered as “the ultimate bohemian, thumbing his nose at social, political, and sexual conventions” (Garber). After meeting Langston Hughes, Nugent quickly became enthralled with the idea of become a part of the New Negro Movement and began producing works like his famous “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” which was “the first literary work on an explicitly homosexual theme” to be published by a black person (Garber).
Compiled by Nakia Long (Class of ’08, Davidson College)
“Wedding Day: A Story”
“Length of Moon”
“The Death Bed”
“From the Dark Tower”
Cover designs, three drawings, incidental art decorations
Arthur Huff Fauset
“Intelligentsia: An Essay”
Zora Neale Hurston
Color Struck: A Play in Four Scenes
“A Southern Road”
“Cordelia the Crude: A Harlem Sketch”
“Fire Burns: Editorial Comment”
Daniel, Walter C. Black Journals of the United States: Historical Guides to the World’s Periodicals and Newspapers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
—. “Gwendolyn Bennett.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Ed. Trudier Harris. Vol. 51. Chapel Hill: UNC, 1987. 3-10. Dictionary of Literary Biography Online. Thompson Gale. Davidson College Lib., Davidson, NC. 14 May 2007.
DeLombard, Jeannine. “Douglas, Aaron.” American National Biography Online. Davidson College Lib., Davidson, NC. 15 May 2007.
Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists. 1926. Metuchen, New Jersey: FIRE!! Press, 1982.
Garber, Eric. “Richard Bruce Nugent.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Ed. Trudier Harris Vol. 51. Chapel Hill: UNC, 1987. 213-221. Dictionary of Literary Biography Online. Thompson Gale. Davidson College Lib., Davidson, NC. 14 May 2007.
Goeser, Caroline. Picturing the New Negro: Harlem Renaissance Print Culture and Modern Black Identity. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 2006.
“Hughes, Langston.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Thompson Gale. Davidson College Lib., Davidson, NC. 14 May 2007.
“Hurston, Zora Neale.” Contemporary Authors Online. Thompson Gale. Davidson College Lib., Davidson, NC. 14 May 2007 <http://galenet.galegroup.com>.
Johnson, Abby Arthur, and Ronald Maberry Johnson. Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of African-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Amherst: UP of Massachusetts, 1979.
Kirschke, Amy H. “Oh Africa! The Influence of African Art during the Harlem Renaissance.” Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. Eds. GeneviÃ¨ve Fabre and Michael Feith. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001.
Klotman, Phyllis R. “Wallace Henry Thurman.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Ed. Trudier Harris Vol. 51. Chapel Hill: UNC, 1987. 260-273. Dictionary of Literary Biography Online. Thompson Gale. E. H. Little Lib., Davidson. 14 May 2007.
“Fire!!” compiled by Nakia Long (Class of ’08, Davidson College)