Book, Shakespeare in Harlem
Illustrating Race in Literature
In the 1940s and 1950s, Kauffer produced designs for works by both Black and white authors on complex race relations in the United States. Much of the country remained segregated by law and by custom. The struggles for racial justice had not yet reached national discourse. Stories of hardship, perseverance, and white supremacist violence were penned by emerging and established writers. White publishing houses opted to hire Kauffer for these projects over Black designers.
For his book of poetry Shakespeare in Harlem, Langston Hughes proposed working with the artist Elmer Simms Campbell, a prominent African American cartoonist. Instead, Blanche Knopf chose Kauffer to design the cover, frontispiece, and 12 illustrations for Hughes’s poems on life in his neighborhood of Harlem. Hughes wrote to Carl Van Vechten that he removed the book jacket at readings for African American audiences, who disapproved of the gambling emphasis in the cover design.
It is credited
Its dimensions are
H x W: 21.5 × 15 cm (8 7/16 × 5 7/8 in.)
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer.