Summer 2005

HUMS 633 (AMST)
The Harlem Renaissance

Pemberton,Gayle

06/13/2005 - 06/17/2005
Monday-Friday 09:30 AM - 05:30 PM

Downey 100

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 artistic 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.

Most people who have heard of the Harlem Renaissance link it to Langston Hughes. Hughes was one of the primary literary artists of the period, writing poetry, short stories, essays, plays, and commentaries. Linked to the development of a blues aesthetic, he believed that the wellspring of black art was the creative genius of the common people. Taking his cues from Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar and others, Hughes became an important articulator of American literary modernism, stressing the commonplace as an appropriate subject for art. He also adamantly rejected the high-art/low-art concept of art, since black art, by virtue of the racial history of the country, was invariably consigned to the "low-art" category--if it was considered art at all.

Zora Neale Hurston, like Langtson Hughes, Sterling Brown, and Jean Toomer, experimented with language in her effort to preserve and celebrate common black people. In Hurston's case, her territory was that of all-black towns in Florida, the prototype of which was Eatonville, where she was born. Hurston's lyrical prose, particularly in her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, links linguistic beauty and creativity to women and their struggles to find a voice in their societies.

Jean Toomer is remembered for his experimental prose work, Cane. Toomer, who was not an active participant in the Harlem Renaissance, nonetheless is considered one of its most important writers. Cane, like the work of Hurston, seeks to capture a sense of the beauty, ugliness, and terror of the rural south, as well as the problems of urban life.

Sterling Brown was an important poet, editor, and professor. His poetry of the Harlem Renaissance period, some of it vernacular, some of it in dialect, is shorn of all of the romantic pretensions that accompanied some of the poetry of the era. His poems of black rural and urban life are uncompromising and powerful.

Nella Larsen's fiction, particularly her novels Passing and Quicksand, interrogates the borders of race and gender in ways no other writer examined during the period. Her middle class blacks struggle to find a place in their narrow, segregated worlds, and learn that there may truly be no place for them.

Without Alain Locke, there would have been no Harlem Renaissance as we know it. He was a Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar and professor of philosophy at Howard University, who edited the Survey Graphic magazine's look at the "New Negro" in 1925. This project turned into the anthology, The New Negro, which brought together the work of literary and graphic artists. Locke provided some of the most philosophical underpinnings to the movement, offering his notions of on aesthetics and subject-matter. Locke, along with W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles S. Johnson and James Weldon Johnson were all central to the raging debates of the day about the meaning and nature of black art.

Primary texts for this course include Jean Toomer, Cane; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; poetry by Langston Hughes; Nella Larsen, Passing; George Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White; and works by Claude McKay, Mae Cowdery, Anne Spencer, and others. Each morning, we will focus on individual authors, and each afternoon will include films, presentations, and discussions.

Students will be expected to write short papers (4-5 pages) on each of the authors we will read, assessing how each contributes a definition of the Harlem Renaissance or "the New Negro". A syllabus for this course will be posted to the GLSP Web site in early May. Students should read all assigned reading before class begins meeting. Two written assignments are due before class meets. A 4-5 page response paper comparing two of the course's primary texts is due Monday, May 30, 2005; and a 4-5 page paper, about the assumptions Alain Locke makes about art, is due Monday, June 6, 2005.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus


Gayle Pemberton (B.A. University of Michigan; M.A., Ph.D. Harvard University) is professor of African American studies, American studies, and English. She is a former Ford Foundation, W.E.B. DuBois Institute, and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow, and author of The Hottest Water in Chicago: Notes of a Native Daughter. Her most recent book, The Road to Gravure: Black Women and American Cinema, is forthcoming from Norton. Click here for more information about Gayle Pemberton.


ENROLLMENT INFORMATION

Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Zora Neale Hurston, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (Perennial), Paperback

George Hutchinson, THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE IN BLACK AND WHITE (Belknap Press), Paperback

Nella Larsen, THE COMPLETE FICTION OF NELLA LARSEN: PASSING, QUICKSAND, AND THE STORIES (Anchor), Paperback

A. Locke, HARLEM: SURVEY GRAPHIC THE MARCH 1925 NUMBER HARLEM MECCA OF THE NEW NEGRO (Black Classic Press), Paperback

Jean Toomer, CANE (W.W. Norton), Paperback

Cary Wintz, BLACK CULTURE AND THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE (Texas A&M University Press, Paperback

PLEASE NOTE: A course packet will also be available at Broad Street Books.

READING MATERIALS AVAILABLE AT BROAD STREET BOOKS, 45 BROAD STREET, MIDDLETOWN, 860-685-7323

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Contact glsinquire@wesleyan.edu to submit comments or suggestions. 
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