The year is 1927, and Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes are feverish with youth, gin, and artistic ambition. They are riding high on the achievements of the Harlem Renaissance-the most dynamic and shocking literary movement in American history. To make their mark on the world, they decide to write an authentic African American opera rooted in the folktales and songs of the South.
Despite these lofty ambitions, the messiness of everyday life and the pressures of patronage get in the way. The blues opera Hughes and Hurston work so hard on never materializes. At first it's simply reduced to a play. Then its very ownership is brought into dispute. Eventually Hughes and Hurston's friendship comes to a final and irreparable end.
Through all their arguments, love affairs, discussions and diversions, the characters work to create a new modernism that is both accessible and relevant to contemporary Black life, and to the generations of readers and writers, artists and poets, both Black and white, to follow.
Harlem Mosaics is a fictional reimagining of true events. In lyrical prose that evokes the heady 1920's, it tells a story that reads as a cautionary tale, a love story, and a social novel, reintroducing us to these brilliant and important artists. The novel includes an introduction by Marc Primus, of the Afro-American Folkloric Troupe, who knew and produced the works of both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
Frazier's witty, fresh fictionalization of the Harlem Renaissance, told from the points of view of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, is a delight. Readers follow Hughes and Hurston in New York and across the U.S. as they work on a folktale-based African-American opera together. The opera eventually becomes their controversial play, Mule Bone, and the process of writing it ruins their friendship. The conversations between the two and among all characters are superbly imagined ("A lie's a story, silly. Of course my lie'll be true. Listen.") Frazier (Robert Johnson's Freewheeling Jazz Funeral) brings to life important figures from the era Bessie Smith, Thurgood Marshall, and Wallace Thurman convincingly capturing their mannerisms and points of view, particularly on race-related issues. Minor irritations do arise, mostly in the form of awkward phrasings, but the missteps all but disappear in light of frequently superlative prose that can be sweet, piquant, gritty, and poetic ("Slim's voice was lazy, a round plum, a sound so ripe you could taste it"). This informative, thoughtful novel is page-turning tour of a singular piece of America's past. (BookLife)