HUMS 633
The Harlem Renaissance

Gayle Pemberton

Course Description
The course will study the literature, politics, and art of the Harlem Renaissance- roughly a period from 1915-1940. This was a time when African American writers, artists, philosophers, activists, and musicians, congregating in New York City's Harlem, sought to define African American culture. The era has most frequently been thought of as a 1920s-only phenomenon, and many have suggested that it was less a "renaissance" than a first flowering of a collective artist spirit. We will energetically take on the debate, examining the roots of the movement and critically reading Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Sterling Brown, Nella Larsen, and others.
Reading Assignments

Readings Assignments:

Cary Wintz, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance, the entire text

George Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White, Part I and Chapter 14 of Part III

Jean Toomer, Cane

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

Alain Locke, editor, Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro, Survey Graphic, pg. 629-634, 659-660, 668-683, 689-691

In the course packet: All Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Mae Cowdery and Sterling Brown poems.

Pre-course Assignments

On May 30 a 4-5 page paper is due.  Taking one of the poets listed above, discuss the language, voice and tone of no more than three poems with an eye toward formulating a thesis about why the poet made such choices.  You might consider the tension between dialect poetry, vernacular poetry and poems written with formal diction.  How does a poet’s choice of language highlight a literary issue of the era?

On June 6 another 4-5 page paper is due on Alain Locke.  Read Locke’s “Harlem” and “Enter the New Negro” from the anthology, Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro and Chapter 6 of Wintz.  Locke was engaged in formulating a New Negro literary aesthetic, writing what he hoped would emerge in black letters.  Consider Locke’s assumptions about art, the United States and blacks. As one one of the “fathers” of the Harlem Renaissance, what does he ask of his “children” and what are his expectations for them? 

There will be small supplementary handouts all week. 

Details will follow on the final assignment.

Course Calendar
June 13

Backgrounds to the Harlem Renaissance

Wintz, Chapters 1, 2, 3                                                                       Hutchinson, Part I                                                           
Selections from Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro 

Musicians and Artists: Audio and Visual presentation 

June 14 "The Search for an Aesthetic" - Langston Hughes

All Hughes poems in the Course Packet
Wintz, Chapters 4 and 5

More Hughes, in words, sight and sound

June 15 "The Search Continues" - Sterling Brown, Claude McKay

All Brown, Johnson and Cowdery poems in the Course Packet; all McKay poems except those from Constab Ballads

Poetry discussion continus
Film: Midnight Ramble

June 16 "King for a Day" - Jean Toomer

Wintz, Chapters 9, 10

Film: Hallelujah, d. King Vidor

June 17 "Queen of the World" - Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Handout: "Zora Neale Hurston and the Speakerly Text," Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Afternoon: "Empress of the Blues" - Nella Larsen

Final Thoughts:
Readings: Hutchinson, Chapter 14