English 486R: Special Topics in Literature

The Harlem Renaissance

Aaron Douglas, "Building More Stately Mansions" (1944)

Utah Valley State College
Summer 2002 Session A
MWF 2:00-3:40, GT 618c


Instructor: Ryan Simmons
Office: EB 10a
Phone: 863-6290 (x6290)
E-mail: simmonry@uvsc.edu
Office hours: MWF 1:00-1:45, or by appt.


Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems. New York: Vintage, 1990.

Hurston, Zora Neale. The Complete Stories. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.

Johnson, James Weldon. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. New York: Dover, 1995.

Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. New York: Penguin, 2002.

Lewis, David Levering, ed. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Penguin, 1995.

Course Description

Did the Harlem Renaissance exist? By what name should we call it? Who benefited from it? What did it add to our cultural heritage? Already we can see that the focus of this course is a highly contested period of cultural history. At the same time, what's now most often known as the Harlem Renaissance (but also commonly called, among other things, the New Negro Renaissance) was a remarkable period in which an unusually rich assemblage of art, theater, music, political discourse, and literature was produced by and about African-Americans. In this course we will be interested in both defining what the Harlem Renaissance amounted to as a movement and exploring some of the specific literature and other works of art and discourse that came out of the period. We will take a look at numerous writers in and around the 1920s who were interested in the lives of African-Americans, and examine how they shaped and were shaped by one another's work. Though our focus will be primarily on literature, to provide a context for our readings we will investigate music, film, visual art, and history of the period. We will also examine some of the controversies of the period, which concerned key literary and social issues about community, self-representation, and rebellion, and explore the continuing resonance of these controversies.

Course Requirements

Reading Journal (20%): At least twice a week, you are expected to contribute a journal entry (about one page, handwritten and single-spaced or word-processed and double-spaced) reflecting on texts or issues we are about to discuss. The purpose of the journal is to foster good classroom discussion; though the entries should be analytical in nature (raising questions, advancing initial assessments, exploring implications, etc.), the expectations are a little looser than they are for the formal essays.

Participation (20%): This portion of your grade measures the contribution you've made to classroom discussions on a day-to-day basis. Quality counts as well as quantity. Keeping up with the reading assignments, being involved in classroom discussion, and respectfully engaging with others' points of view are factors that count in your favor. Missing class repeatedly will seriously impair this portion of your grade; so can habitual tardiness.

Group Presentation (10%): As part of a group of approximately three people, you will conduct a presentation of about 20 minutes on a topic relevant to the Harlem Renaissance. While your group will develop the topic it wants to pursue, I will be happy to offer suggestions or help you shape your presentation's scope. The goals are for your group members to achieve a detailed knowledge of a particular topic, and for the entire class to achieve a general knowledge of several topics.

Essay Proposal (15%): Midway through the course, you will develop a topic idea relevant to the course material. In this proposal, you need to describe your topic idea, outline your initial findings and a plan for further research (including a preliminary bibliography), and defend the purpose and validity of researching and writing about your topic.

Final Essay (35%): This longer (10+ pages) essay should be the result of substantial research and--even more importantly--thought about a topic of your choice (though subject to my advice and approval--see Proposal requirement above) relevant to the Harlem Renaissance. Generally speaking, the Final Essay should incorporate an analysis of both literary text(s) and other manifestations of culture (the arts, politics, history, etc.), though I am open to discussing essay ideas that don't precisely meet the stated guidelines.

Essay Policies

  1. Essays should be typed and double-spaced and include a title and page numbers. Essays are not graded on length, but rather on their ability to help a reader work through, and be persuaded by, a serious analysis. This ability arises from correctness of prose, and also from factors including clear expression, thoughtful organization, originality, completeness, and adequate textual support.

  2. In order to receive a passing grade, an essay must articulate and support an original analysis, moving well beyond summary of other writers' ideas and words.

  3. Material from outside sources must be cited completely and correctly using MLA style.

  4. I am always willing to read and critique work in progress, and to answer questions about your writing. When turning in an essay to be graded, you are expected to submit the best work you are capable of doing, given time constraints; thus, revisions will not be accepted after an essay has been graded.

  5. Late papers: You have two free "late days" upon entering the class. The two essays (i.e. the Proposal and the Final Essay) are due at the start of class on their respective due dates. Each class day an essay is turned in late counts as one day used up. These days may be used up with one essay (turning it in two days late) or divided between both essays. No penalty is given for late essays turned in within these parameters, but once your late days are used up, any late essays will be docked one grade (e.g., from an A- to a B-).

    The two late days are provided to allow for normal problems such as printer failure, forgotten notebooks, competing deadlines in other courses, etc. Once they are used up, no additional late days will be granted, regardless of the reason for being late, and any subsequent late papers will be docked.

Academic Honesty

Any course work that is found to violate UVSC's standards of academic honesty will be dealt with as laid out in the college's statement on "Student Rights and Responsibilities." Please read these standards, and the consequences for violating them, carefully, noting that the repercussions are always severe. In particular, be aware that plagiarism is a severe violation of both college policy and the policy of this course.

Plagiarism, or the use of others' words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of Utah Valley State College. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVSC, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which must be corrected in order to be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVSC's statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Please refer to http://www.uvsc.edu/engl/plag/plagiarism_policy.html to read the department's full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.

Disability Accommodation

If you have a disability that may influence your ability to meet the requirements of this course, please contact the UVSC Accessibility Service Department (Room BU145) as soon as possible. Any necessary accommodations, as arranged by the Accessibility Service Department, will be made.


M 4/29 Introduction to course
W 5/1 Du Bois, "Returning Soldiers" (PHRR pp. 3-5); Woodson, "The Migration of the Talented Tenth" (PHRR pp. 6-9); Locke, "The New Negro" (PHRR pp. 46-51); Garvey, "Africa for the Africans," "Liberty Hall Emancipation Day Speech" (PHRR pp. 17-28); Ovington, "On Marcus Garvey" (PHRR pp. 29-33); Du Bois, "Criteria of Negro Art" (PHRR pp. 100-5).
F 5/3 Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man pp. 1-51; Johnson, excerpt from Black Manhattan (PHRR pp. 34-45); Hughes, excerpt from The Big Sea (PHRR pp. 76-95); Schuyler, "The Negro-Art Hokum" (PHRR pp. 96-99); Thurman, "Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life" (PHRR pp. 633-6).
M 5/6 The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man pp. 51-100; Grimke, excerpt from The Closing Door (PHRR pp. 486-500).
W 5/8 Video: "Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance"; Douglas, "Aaron Douglas Chats about the Harlem Renaissance" (PHRR pp. 118-27); Barnes, "Negro Art and America" (PHRR pp. 128-33); Locke, "The Negro Takes His Place in American Art" (PHRR pp. 134-7).
F 5/10 Continued discussion of Wednesday readings; Groups 1 & 2 present.
M 5/13 Video: "Within Our Gates" (Oscar Micheaux).
W 5/15 Bennet, "Song" (PHRR pp. 221-2), "Hatred" (PHRR p. 223); Bontemps, "The Day-Breakers" (PHRR p. 224); Brown, "Frankie and Johnny" (PHRR pp. 231-2), "Ma Rainey" (PHRR pp. 232-4), "Remembering Nat Turner" (PHRR pp. 236-7); Cullen, "Incident" (PHRR p. 243), "Yet Do I Marvel" (PHRR p. 244), "Heritage" (PHRR pp. 244-7), "Tableau" (PHRR pp. 248-9), "Saturday's Child" (PHRR p. 249), "Nothing Endures" (PHRR pp. 250-1); Johnson, "Old Black Men" (PHRR pp. 272-3), "Black Woman" (PHRR p. 274), "The Heart of a Woman" (PHRR p. 274); Johnson, "Poem" (PHRR pp. 277-8); McKay, "If We Must Die" (PHRR p. 290), "The Negro's Friend" (PHRR p. 291), "The Harlem Dancer" (PHRR p. 296).
F 5/17 Continue with poetry readings; Groups 3 & 4 present.
M 5/20 Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred (SP pp. 221-72) plus at least 10 Hughes poems not otherwise covered
W 5/22 Hughes, Madam to You (SP pp. 199-218), Words Like Freedom (SP pp. 273-97) plus at least 10 more Hughes poems not otherwise covered
F 5/24 Continue with Hughes poems; Toomer, excerpt from Cane (PHRR pp. 318-32); Proposal for Final Essay due.
W 5/29 Larsen, Quicksand pp. 3-74; McKay, "Harlem Runs Wild" (PHRR pp. 190-3); Wright, "Blueprint for Negro Writing" (PHRR pp. 194-205).
F 5/31 Quicksand pp. 75-136; McDougald, "The Task of Negro Womanhood" (PHRR pp. 68-75); Groups 5 & 6 present.
M 6/3 White, excerpt from The Fire in the Flint (PHRR pp. 351-62); Bennett, "Wedding Day" (PHRR pp. 363-9); Fisher, excerpt from The Walls of Jericho (PHRR pp. 536-47); Nugent, "Smoke, Lilies and Jade" (PHRR pp. 569-83).
W 6/5 Video: "Jazz" (Ken Burns)
F 6/7 "Jazz" video continued; Rogers, "Jazz at Home" (PHRR pp. 52-7); Groups 7 & 8 present
M 6/10 West, "The Typewriter" (PHRR pp. 501-9); Thurman, "Cordelia the Crude" (PHRR pp. 629-33); Hurston, "Drenched in Light" (CS pp. 17-25); "Spunk" (CS pp. 26-32); "Magnolia Flower" (CS pp. 33-40).
W 6/12 Hurston, "Muttsy" (CS pp. 41-56); "The Eatonville Anthology" (CS pp. 59-72); "Sweat" (CS pp. 73-85); "The Gilded Six-Bits" (CS pp. 86-98).
F 6/14 Hurston, "Black Death" (CS pp. 202-8); "The Bone of Contention" (CS pp. 209-20); "The Book of Harlem" (CS pp. 221-26); Groups 9 & 10 present.
M 6/17 Johnson, "The Negro Renaissance and Its Significance" (PHRR pp. 206-18); Gates, "Harlem on Our Minds" (handout); overview of Final Essay Topics; Final Essay Due.
here for Ryan Simmons's main homepage.