Benevolent economies: An exploration of literary patronage during the Harlem Renaissance

John Wesley Stewart

Abstract

During the Harlem Renaissance, writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston struggled to make their work available to commercial markets. Each engaged in relationships with the notable patrons Carl Van Vechten and Charlotte Osgood Mason with decidedly different results. The assistance Hughes received from Van Vechten resembled a classical brand of patronage while the support offered to Hurston by Mason took shape more as a business partnership. Applying economic theory to these patronage relationships reveals that each association represents its own unique market economy. An economic reading of these writers allows a deeper and more comprehensive investigation into the very motivations of philanthropy.