Sunday Feature - Harlem on Fire

  • Nick Taylor
I successfully pitched and am currently producing a documentary for BBC Radio 3 as part of their regular 'Sunday Feature' documentary series, presented by the writer, journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch.

The programme focuses on a relatively untold story of the Harlem Renaissance (the African-American arts and social movement in New York during the 1920s), that of 'Fire!!' - a short-lived literary magazine published in 1926, created by and for the young black artists of the movement. Featuring poetry, prose, drama and artwork from some of the biggest names of the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, Wallace Thurman and Aaron Douglas, Fire!! was an explosive attempt to burn down the traditional western canon and replace it with brutally honest and controversial depictions of African American life. This was done by exploring such taboo subjects as homosexuality, prostitution, interacial relationships and domestic abuse. Fire!! lasted for just one issue - it's controversy, as well the extremely high production costs of the magazine, would prove to be its undoing - well, that and the ironic fate the magazine met when all unsold copies were lost in actual fire in the production office's basement. Yet despite its very brief existence, Fire!! is now considered to be an incredibly important document of the Harlem Renaissance, and an early example of youth rebellion in the African American printed press.
For this programme myself and Afua Hirsch travelled to Harlem to talk to a number of historians and academics about the importance of 'Fire!!', as well as the young African American poets, writers and artists of today to get their take on life as a young artist in Harlem, as well as having them read extracts from the magazine on the streets of Harlem where Fire was born.