“The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” won the 2018 National Book Award for nonfiction during a ceremony Wednesday in New York.
Written by Jeffrey C. Stewart, a professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the book is a biography of Locke, who in 1907, became the first African American named a Rhodes Scholar (recently, a new class of Rhodes Scholars was named).
Locke also earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University, and he was chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Howard University. In addition, Locke was a closeted gay man, which at the time left him isolated from others.
However, Locke’s most important contribution was that he was the father and chief interpreter of the Harlem Renaissance, which blossomed from 1918 to 1937.
A prolific writer and editor, Locke encouraged writers to explore subjects in black life. He encouraged black musicians, painters and sculptors to look to African sources for their identity.
During his acceptance speech, Stewart noted that his family attended the ceremony to help him celebrate the award. In Locke’s time, no one would have attended such a ceremony because of his secret life, Stewart said.
He also joked about people lifting the book because of its heft. The book is 932 pages in length and is as heavy in weight as it is substantive in content.