Black History Month: Fire! magazine

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!!.  (Nov. 1926)

Fire!! magazine began in 1926, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Instigated by Wallace Thurman, it featured many legendary artists and writers, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Artist and contributor Aaron Douglas asserted: “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.” This radical magazine published work that other periodicals deemed illicit and “improper” for “decent” upwardly mobile African Americans. Fire!! covered work that incorporated all walks of Black life, class struggles, different sexualities, where experience and existence was radical in and of itself. Langston Hughes said that the creators of Fire!! wanted “to express themselves freely and independently–without interference from old heads, white or Negro… to provide… an outlet for publishing not existing in the hospitable but limited pages of The Crisis or Opportunity.” The aim was to reveal the 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.”

“…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic.” – Aaron Douglas

You can buy a facsimile of Fire!! here 

You can read more about the magazine (and find a treasure trove of other “little” underground magazines from the modernist era  here)


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