...a vitally important, astonishingly well researched, exhaustive biography of the brilliant, complex, flawed, utterly fascinating man who, if he did not start the movement, served as its curator, intellectual champion, and guiding spirit ... His account of Locke’s life is detailed, sometimes astoundingly so, but never descends into tedium. More important, he displays a thorough grasp of the intellectual challenges Locke took on ... On his death, in 1954, Locke left behind achievements that deserve to be more widely celebrated, and this biography represents a serious, worthy attempt to get the party started.
...Stewart’s biography aims to heave Locke out of obscurity and prop him next to the reputations he launched. At more than nine hundred pages, it’s a thudding, shapeless text, despotic in its pedantry and exhausting in its zeal, marked by excruciating attention to the most minuscule irrelevances. This is touching—and strangely fitting. Stewart’s research arrives at a kind of Lockean intensity. But even Stewart’s vigor falters as Locke’s own scholarly energies start to wane ... The New Negro was a hero, a fetish, a polemical posture—and a blurry portrait of a flinching soul. But Locke took his place, at last, in the history he wished to redeem.
In describing Locke's life as a black man, a thinker and fighter in social causes, and a homosexual, Stewart, professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, must in a way describe many different Alain Lockes. That such a gripping and cohesive narrative could be forged out of such fractured material is no mean accomplishment ... Stewart's literary analysis of this movement and its many works, offshoots, and descendants is unerringly sharp and interesting, and he refreshingly includes as much that speaks against his subject as speaks for him ... Jeffrey Stewart has written the definitive study that life has always warranted – and, fittingly, he's made it excellent reading in the process.
Stewart’s biography is most illuminating when it traces the tangled path of Locke’s awakening as a scholar and aesthete ... Stewart’s account of those final years is as exhaustively detailed and as rigorously attentive to Locke’s mood swings, flirtations, flings, and ambitions as it is when examining his youth ... In our dismal present, when Difference-with-a-capital-D remains what white Americans tend to notice before they assess intelligence, ideas, and ability, when merely asserting that black lives matter can in some circles be taken as a terrorist threat, Stewart’s sprawling, magisterial labor of love comes as a reminder that in those Birth of a Nation days a century ago, when race relations were far worse than they are now, a fiercely independent philosopher of color set down visions of black American freedom beyond economic agendas, nationalist visions, and political protest. This book draws Alain Locke out of the shadows and bestows his legacy to artists of all colors and genders seeking freedom from narrow-minded expectations and fear-mongering hypocrisy.
Those who love biographies or reading about important yet undercelebrated Americans will enjoy Stewart’s comprehensive, richly contextualized portrait of a key writer, educator, philosopher, and supporter of the arts.
The breadth of Locke’s work is stunning, and Stewart refuses to emphasize Locke’s activities during the Harlem Renaissance at the expense of other contributions. Locke was never truly revered as a philosopher, but he produced original research in the field of value theory, including, for example, on the role emotions play in the formation of values and opinions … Stewart treats seemingly every sentence Locke wrote with great care, reconstructing his wanderings through Europe and Africa, black theater, communism and other geographic and intellectual terrain. The cost of this choice is the length and pace of the book, which is sharply written but unlikely to get readers’ adrenaline pumping. The benefits of his thoroughness, however, are manifold.
A magisterial biography ... This hefty, deeply researched book is sometimes overwhelming in its detail about Locke but it brilliantly doubles as a history of the philosophical debates that girded black artistic triumphs early in the 20th century. A sweeping biography that gets deep into not just the man, but the movements he supported, resisted, and inspired.