Graduate Program

350:589 - Harlem Renaissance

Course No:  350:589
Index: 18104
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C, D
Tuesday - 4:30 p.m.  
MU 207

Harlem Renaissance 

Cheryl Wall

The Harlem Renaissance was a combustible mix of the serious, the ephemeral, the aesthetic, the political, and the risqué. The readings and discussions in this course will explore the cultural awakening among African Americans during the 1920s and 1930s in all of these dimensions. From the beginning, writers and critics debated what the awakening should be called – New Negro Movement, New Negro Renaissance, or Harlem Renaissance – where it took place, what it encompassed, and whether it had any political utility. The 2013 volume, Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance Beyond Harlem, edited by Davarian Baldwin and Minkah Makalani, has reenergized these debates, and we will grapple with their implications. We will consider as well the reasons that the Harlem Renaissance has been central to African American literary scholarship. Part of the explanation derives from key issues it invites scholars to discuss: the politics of representation, the usefulness of periodization, the validity of vernacular theory, and the impact of transnationalism. These are of course issues that are relevant to literary study writ large.

Students will read a rich sampling of Harlem Renaissance fiction, poetry, and drama in the context of critical essays and manifestos produced by W.E.B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and James Weldon Johnson. Among the likely texts are: Jessie Fauset, Plum Bun, Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter and The Weary Blues, Zora Neale Hurston, Color Struck and Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nella Larsen, Quicksand and Passing, Claude McKay, Home to Harlem, and Wallace Thurman, Harlem: A Melodrama of Negro Life in Harlem, Jean Toomer, Cane, and Eric Waldrond, Tropic Death. To the extent possible, the class will also pay attention to the musical and visual culture of the era. We will also examine the ways in which the perspectives of feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, queer theory, and performance theory have shaped recent studies of the period.

Students will write two 8-10 page papers, prepare a 10-15 minute oral presentation, post to the class blog weekly, and participate regularly in class discussions.