This course will focus on selected works of Afro-American literature published during the 1920s and early 1930s in America, an era in which there was an unparalleled artistic and socio-cultural awakening in the Black community. During these years Harlem in particular was the seedbed of an unprecedented dynamism in music, dance, painting, sculpture, and in literature as well. Fascination with the Afro-American renaissance in the arts spilled into the wider world outside Harlem, creating a strong demand for access to the work of these artists. In the case of literature, publishers of periodicals and books showcased Afro-American literature.
Historically, Black writers had felt diminished and insulted by social conditions and prescriptive notions of Afro-American writing. The authors of the Harlem Renaissance boldly overturned literary traditions in which Black people were portrayed stereotypically, in the process forging a literature distinctive to their unique identities and struggles. All of this, in turn, served as a remarkable stimulus to creativity.
Among the questions this course will address are: Do these works, which are close to a century old, address present-day concerns (racial or otherwise) or are these writings only interesting as literary artifacts? How diverse is this literature? Are there common settings, subjects, themes, styles? Do these works differ from mainstream works of American literature of the 20s and 30s? If so, how so? Do the various genres represented here (poetry, prose, fiction) have similar settings, subjects, themes? Is W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of “double-consciousness” evident in these works?
Books to Purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop during the weeks prior to the course beginning):