This picture was taken last year at a restaurant in Atlanta. I had just finished a book signing for the release of Book 3 in The Stella Trilogy and was to act in the stage-play Blakk Amerika: From Prophets to Pimps the next day. Hungry, me and two sisters decided to sneak off from the group and grab a bite. This is me posing with the daughter of one of the sisters with me.
This picture is significant because it is at this dinner that I explained my vision for my next book, Nora’s story. The ladies were encouraging as we discussed our thoughts on The Harlem Renaissance movement and the ideas for the book. I wanted to create an environment where the character would, literally, interact with history. What if you were seventeen years old and had the chance to be in the presence of such persons as Langston…
Yes indeed, twins make history again. Meet Marvin and Morgan Smith, painters who focused on capturing the positive side of Harlem during the decline of the Harlem Renaissance and the birth of The Great Depression.
“During the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Harlem spread itself before the cameras of Morgan and Marvin Smith like a great tablecloth, and eagerly they went about devouring what it had to offer.”
– Gordon Parks Sr.
We often discuss the writers of the movement and the musicians while the artists are often left out. Names like Kwame Brathwaite, Aaron Douglass, Lois Jones, and Morgan and Marvin Smith, are not as well known.
Morgan (right) and Marvin (left) Smith were born on February 16, 1910 in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The boys found a talent for art but wouldn’t pursue it much until the sharecropping family moved to Lexington in the late 1920s. Here Morgan and Marvin attended Dunbar High School, the only Black High School in Lexington at the time, and developed further their artistic abilities. They worked with oil paintings and sculptors until eventually, cameras.
In 1933, Morgan and Marvin graduated High School and pursued their art full time. However, Kentucky at the time provided little to no support for the young men and as I imagine, they could not grow in the way that they wished. They moved to Cincinnati with hope of a better future but not finding opportunities there, decided to move on to New York.
When they arrived to Harlem the twins did manual labor for the WPA or Works Progress Administration and took art lessons from Augusta Savage (another sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance) at her studio. Through Savage the twins became connected with the 306 Group, a collective of African American artists who worked and socialized together in Harlem, New York in the 1930s. The name of the group came from the address of a studio space, 306 W. 141st Street, used by two of the artists, Charles Alston and Henry Bannarn.
Marvin and Morgan became acquainted with prominent figures through Savage but it wasn’t until 1937 when the twins really came into the public’s eye when Morgan won an award for his photo of a boy playing.
After 1937, the twins decided to focus their attention on the community of Harlem overall. Their interest was in capturing the good instead of the bad. With the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression smacked down in the middle, there was plenty to complain about, I am sure, and much of the glitter and glam of the Harlem Renaissance had begun to fade. People weren’t as interested in Black culture and art during these tough times which brings Marvin and Morgan into focus.
Over the next 40 years with their paint brushes and cameras, the brothers would record what remained, refusing to document anything negative. What’s cute is that the brother’s married identical twin sisters on the same day and three years later both divorced on the same day. They would die exactly ten years apart, Morgan smith at 83 and Marvin at 93. I am happy to see that they both lived full lives.
When Noelle Harrison meets Clark Johnson on her way out the church doors, she immediately discerns that his kindness is not appropriate for a married woman. Already we can see Noelle struggling. Should she go out to lunch with the young, fine, Clark? He claims he just wants to be friends, is that possible? Can a married woman be friends with another man without romance being involved? This is the question I asked myself as Clark and Noelle made plans for lunch.
The plot thickens as we discover that Mr. Wayne Harrison is a workaholic who is always away on business. In fact, he is so busy that he practically ignores Noelle’s cries for attention and is not as helpful with their two sons as he should be. Frustrated with being ignored, Noelle continues to go on lunch dates with Clark while struggling to hold onto her integrity. Clark wants Noelle and he wants her bad. She has taken over his mind and is now all he thinks about. Noelle has no idea the kind of life altering decision a simple lunch date can be.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. For me, it has a mixture of everything. Of course, there’s the serious question of fidelity and married life but there’s also drama and laughs (Clark’s a bit of a crybaby. I am sure that’s him smiling on the cover.) When things got deep my heart broke for each of the main characters (Noelle, Wayne, Clark) at different points in the story. It reminded me of how precious marriage is but also how important it is not to play around with someone’s heart. The Love Labyrinth is a smooth read, not too fast and not too slow with some well-developed characters.