Laban Carrick Hill

Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance

2004 Finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature
Additional Awards and Honors Below

Essay: The African American Century
By Laban Carrick Hill


Imagine an America without African American music. Without hip hop. Without even Justin Timberlake since not only Timberlake’s influences are deeply rooted in black culture, but also his record producers and songwriters are African American. An America without blacks is a place without Rock and Roll. Without Jazz. Without essentially any truly American music.
Now, imagine a sports world without African Americans. Without Michael Jordan. Without Barry Bonds. Without Michael Vick. Without Jesse Owens. Without Jackie Robinson. Without Mohamed Ali. Without “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” How about movies without Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, and Sidney Poitier. Theater without August Wilson. And Politics without Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X…even Al Sharpton.

The writer Ralph Ellison wrote in his essay “What America Would be Like Without Blacks” that “…whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black.” Try to imagine the 20th Century without African Americans. Scholars Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cornell West have gone so far as to call the 20th Century the African American Century.

American life is inconceivable without its black presence. And if Gates and West are right and the 20th Century IS the Black Century, then the 1920s is the coming age for African Americans in that century. In the 1920s Harlem was hoppin’ and stompin’. The poet Arna Bontemps described the feeling, “In Harlem, it was like a foretaste of paradise. A blue haze descended at night and with it strings of fairy lights on the broad avenues.” The poet Countee Cullen characterized the spirit of the era in his poem “Harlem Wine.”

Harlem Wine

This is not water running here,
These thick rebellious streams
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams.

This is a wine that must flow on
Not caring how or where,
So it has ways to flow upon
Where song is in the air.

So it can woo an artful flute
With loose, elastic lips,
Its measurements of joy compute
With blithe, ecstatic hips.


The energy, writing, music and dance of the Harlem Renaissance are like no other period in American history. It celebrates not only a race, but all of America.

Awards and Honors

2004 National Book Award Finalist
2004 Parent’s Choice Gold Award
2004 Bookbinder’s Guild New York Book Fair First Prize
2005 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children 2005
2005 Notable Book for a Global Society
2005 International Reading Association Teacher's Choice
2005 James Madison Book Award Nominee
2005 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Chicago Public Library Best Books 2005
Iowa Public Library Best Book for 2004
Voices of Young Adults Poetry Pick 2003
Notable Social Studies Trade Books 2005
Gustavus Myers Honor Book
Black Issues Book Review Best Books 2004
San Francisco Chronicle Best Books 2004
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 2004
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year 2004
American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults 2005 Nominee
Young Adult School Library Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Nominee
Booklist 2004 Summer Pick
Junior Library Guild Selection
American Library Association Annotated Book Selection 2004
Children's Literature Choice Selection 2005
Reading Circle Selection 2005
PBS TeacherSource Recommendation

Selected Works

1. Nonfiction
"Completely awesome"--Time "Hill tells the story of the birth of hip-hop with his own catchy rhythm, and Taylor’s illustrations bring out the enthusiasm and sense of community at the heart of this trend-setting sound."--New York Times Book Review
"Phenomenal."–Howard Zinn "Excellent."–New York Times Book Review
Harlem Stomp! is a wonderous new book: it celebrates a time, a place, an energy, and a people who refused to be held back and so they created a culture the entire world is still reeling from.”
--George C. Wolfe, writer, director, and producer of the Public Theater, NYC
3. Poetry
A picturebook poem describing the life of the slave potter Dave. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.
“Contemporary Poetry of New England offers a vivid portrait of a region, its colors and smells, its physical and emotional textures, and the people…. It presents a range of poets, few of whom would call themselves a “region poet,” although each has taken to heart in a private way Frost’s haunting dictum: ‘Locality gives art.’”
--from the Introduction
2. Fiction
A seventeen-year-old is plucked out of the Grande Armee to sit in place of Napoleon for a portrait of the Emperor by the artist David.
"I felt like a kid reading every word on the page! I liked the strains of "magic realism" coming through in Frida's house! Children will relate to this very much! The story is charming and reads like a thriller." –Margarita Aguilar, Assisant Curator, El Museo del Barrio
4. Middle Grade Series
These kids love extreme sports--snowboarding, skateboarding, rock climbing, wake boarding--and are ready to fight when the right to do their sport is threatened.