CANCELLED English - Elective Subject, topic 2: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond: Representations of Blackness in American Literature and Culture

Course content



This elective considers twentieth- and twenty-first African American life and culture as well as transnational and global experiences and representations of Blackness by focusing on the Harlem Renaissance, and representations, constructions and performances of the Black body. Accordingly, the teaching of the course will proceed via two subthemes:

  • Staging the American Body: Texts that Perform and Performance texts (Helene Grøn)
  • The Literature and Culture of the Harlem Renaissance (Martyn Bone)



Staging the American Body: Texts that Perform and Performance

Course Description: This course takes an interdisciplinary approach in considering performance texts and texts that perform, written predominantly by African American writers. The body provides a “way in” (or indeed, “way out”) to thinking about the ways in which subjectivity, history, narrative, and identity, function in American and transnational cultures of Blackness. These works stage the embodied negotiations of citizenship, belonging, culture and race in ways that often reveal and/or obfuscate experiences, while forming an intervention into culture more broadly. Considering the mediums of theatre and poetry, we will delve into what it means to view, read, perform and stage, thereby working to contextualize each week’s text(s) in terms of cultural history and using a variety of theoretical approaches. As such, we will also consider the texts in their widest terms by looking also at elements of staging, clips from the plays and the poets’ performances, and consider how they might be “read”.


Educational Aims: On this course, students will develop a number of methodological, critical and theoretical approaches to analyse and understand the ways the body has been staged, imagined and performed. We will work towards understanding how these interventions are negotiated in literary studies and beyond, borrowing, in particular, also from theatre and performance studies, while considering how these works treat wider cultural issues surrounding language, identity and history. By the end of the course, students will understand a variety of corporeal discourses, and will be able to analyse various scripted performances of the body.


Learning Outcomes:

  1. Articulate key issues pertaining to the Black body in American culture, such as race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship through e.g. Claudia Rankine and Jericho Brown’s poetry collections.
  2. Examine scholarly discussions around performance, performativity, spectatorship, the ethics of viewing and the gaze.
  3. Develop an interdisciplinary approach to texts that perform and performance texts by also drawing on theatre and performance studies.
  4. Contextualise contemporary American culture within a wider social, political and economic framework, both national and transnational through e.g. Hannah Lavery’s work.


Course texts (TBC):

  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
  • Jericho Brown, The Tradition (2019)
  • Danez Smith, Don’t Call us Dead: Poems (2017)
  • Inua Ellams, The 14th Tale (2020)
  • Hanna Lavery, Lament for Sheku Bayoh (2021)
  • Jackie Sibblies Drury, Fairveiw (2018)
  • Susan Lory Parks, Top Dog Underdog (1999)
  • Jeremy O. Harris, Slave Play (2018)
  • Lynn Nottage, Sweat (2018)
  • August Wilson, selected plays from The Pittsburg Cycle (1980-2005)



Literature and Culture of the Harlem Renaissance

This part of the 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 emerged as both 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”) and the locus for a loose and eclectic movement of black writers and intellectuals (as well as musicians and artists). The Renaissance included established figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, but was especially notable for the emergence of “the younger generation” to whom Alain Locke dedicated the landmark volume The New Negro (1925). In literature, these emerging voices included Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, and George Schuyler.


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

  • the role of “race” in modern (urban) U.S. life, including “passing,” black-white relationships, and sexual relationships;
  • debates over different approaches to “Negro Art” and the issue of how to depict African American life;
  • the relationship between modernism and the Harlem Renaissance; 
  • the role of white writers and patrons in the Harlem Renaissance;  
  • the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the U.S. South (as well as blacks from the Caribbean);
  • the transnational dimensions of the Harlem Renaissance: i.e., the Caribbean background of key figures in the Harlem Renaissance; Nella Larsen’s relationship to Denmark; cultural and political solidarity with colored peoples within and beyond the U.S.
  • literary representations of--and relationships to--other African American cultural formations during the Renaissance, especially music (jazz and blues)


Course texts may include (TBC):

  • Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (1925)
  • James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912, 1927)
  • Claude McKay, Home to Harlem (1928)
  • Nella Larsen, Quicksand (1928)
  • George Schuyler, Black No More (1931)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • George Hutchinson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance (2007)


Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 84
  • Preparation
  • 325,5
  • English
  • 409,5


Course number
Programme level

1 semester

See link to schedule
Study board of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinators
  • Martyn Richard Bone   (4-727f7e755078857d3e7b853e747b)
  • Helene Grøn   (6-86808543454b527a877f407d8740767d)
Saved on the 16-12-2021

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