English - Elective 3, topic 1: Literature of the Harlem Renaissance

Course content

This course will focus on the literature of the so-called “New Negro Renaissance” or “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, the New York neighborhood of Harlem developed as not only a vibrant center of African American life (in the famous black folk saying of the period, “I’d rather be a lamppost in Harlem than the governor of Georgia”), but also the locus for a loose and eclectic movement of black writers and intellectuals (as well as musicians and artists): from established figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson to emerging voices including Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, and Claude McKay.




Throughout the course, we will read a range of primary and critical texts in order to consider a variety of themes:

  • the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the U.S. South;
  • the role of “race” in the modern metropolis, including “passing,” interracial friendships, and sexual relationships;
  • literary representations of--and relationships to--other African American cultural formations of the Renaissance, especially music (especially jazz and blues) and art (i.e., the paintings of Jacob Lawrence);
  • debates over how to depict African American life and “authentic blackness,” including the use and abuse of primitivism and exoticism;
  • the relationship between modernism and the Harlem Renaissance; 
  • the role of white writers and patrons in the Harlem Renaissance; 
  • white “slumming” in Harlem during the “Jazz Age” 
  • the transnational dimensions of the Harlem Renaissance: i.e., the Caribbean background of key figures in the Harlem Renaissance, and Nella Larsen’s relationship to Denmark


7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 162,75
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • English
  • 204,75