The Harlem Renaissance

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Spring 1. 2021

Course Title: “The Harlem Renaissance”
Duration: Six Weeks
Course: Spring 1 of 2021
Dates: January 15 – February 19, 2021
Time: Fridays 3:00pm-4:45pm

Course Description:
Amiri Baraka referred to the Harlem Renaissance as a “BangClash” and “Vicious Modernism.” In this course we will commit to reflecting, interrogating, and delighting in the literary and cultural moment in the African American community of the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, known today as the Harlem Renaissance. While the Renaissance centered urban metropoles like New York, the aesthetic regime of the renaissance was felt around the world. We will encounter the works of Claude McKay, Nella Larson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Marita Bonner, Paul Robeson, George Schuyler, as well as the intellectual work of thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois and the musical work of blues legends like Ma Rainey. Important to this constellation of thought are the movements known today as Marcus Garveyism, Afrocentrism, and Négritude, which we will discuss in due time, as well.

Suggested purchases (in order of importance):

  1. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. Edited by David Levering Lewis. Penguin, 1994.
  2. The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Gene Andrew Jarrett. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Schedule (readings are meant to be done before the class during which they will be discussed)

January 15 – “The New Negro”: What was the Harlem Renaissance?


  • Introduction from The New Negro (ed. by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Gene Andrew Jarrett).
  • Introduction from The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (ed. by David Levering Lewis)

January 22 – Aesthetics, Politics: Alain Locke and W.E.B. DuBois alongside Nella Larson’s Passing


  1. Ch. 3 from Gene Andrew Jarrett’s book Representing The Race: A New Political History of African American Literature
  2. Nella Larson’s Passing from Vol. 2 of the Wiley-Blackwell Anthology of African American Literature

The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (editor David Levering Lewis):

  • W.E.B. DuBois (pp.100-108)
  • Nella Larson’s Passing (pp. 460-485) (note that this is a somewhat different passage than the one in the PDF attached)

The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938 (editors Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Gene Andrew Jarrett):

  • Anonymous (p. 96)
  • Alain Locke (pp.112-118)
  • Claude McKay (pp.141-148)
  • George Schuyler (pp. 149-154)

January 29 – Harlem in the South: Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Toomer


The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader

  • Poetry by Jean Toomer (pp. 301-307 & 318-332)
  • Memoir, Fiction, and Essays by Zora Neale Hurston (pp. 142-156 & 695-728)

The New Negro: Readings on Race…

  • Essays by Zora Neale Hurston (pp. 355-364; 473-475)
  • Alain Locke (521-524)
  • Carl Van Vechten (pp. 223-226)

Secondary readings (sent via email):

  • Alice Walker, excerpt from In Search of Our Mothers Gardens, where she talks about rediscovering Zora Neale Hurston as her ancestral/spiritual mother, in the Wiley Blackwell Anthology of Af-Am Literature (vol 2)
  • Zora Neale Hurston’s two fiction pieces “The Back Room” and “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” in the Wiley Blackwell Anthology of Af-Am Literature (vol 2)
  • Excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s posthumously published book about the last living slave-ship survivor, Barracoon

February 5 – Claude McKay: poetry, novels, politics



  • “Harlem Runs Wild” (pp 190-193), Claude McKay poetry (pp. 290-298), Claude McKay fiction (371-408)

Gates & Jarrett

  • Claude McKay, “A Negro Writer to his Critics” (pp. 390-394), “For A Negro Magazine” (p. 251), and Richard Wright’s “Blueprint for Negro Writing” (pp. 268-274)

Secondary sources (sent via email):

  • Introduction: “Manifesting Claude McKay” in Claude Mckay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance(2007) by Gary Edward Holcomb
  • Ch 3: “‘Dark Desire All Over the Pages’: Race, Nation, and Sex in Home to Harlem” in Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance (2007) by Gary Edward Holcomb

February 12 – Gay Harlem: Ma Rainey, Richard Brice Nugent, Langston Hughes


Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader:

  • Langston Hughes (pp. 257-270, 585-627)
  • Richard Bruce Nugent (pp. 569-584)

Secondary sources that are attached to this email are listed below:

  • “Insolent Racing, Rough Narrative: The Harlem Renaissance’s Impolite Queers” by Michael L. Cobb
  • “Sweetback Style: Wallace Thurman and a Queer Harlem Renaissance” by Stephen Knadler
  • “Langston Hughes on the DL” by Andrew Donnelly
  • “‘Spectacles in Color’: The Primitive Drag of Langston Hughes” by Sam See

February 19 – Négritude, Marcus Garveyism, and the Global Echoes of the Renaissance


Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader:

  • W.A. Domingo (pp. 10-16)
  • Marcus Garvey (pp. 17-28)
  • Mary White Ovington (pp. 29-33) 

The New Negro (Gates and Jarrett): Marcus Garvey (pp. 92-96)

Secondary sources that are attached to this email are listed below:

  • “Césaire’s Negritude: To ‘Africa’ and Back” by A. James Arnold
  • Intro and Ch 1 of The Negritude Movement : W.E.B. Du Bois, Leon Damas, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and the Evolution of an Insurgent Idea (2015) by Reiland Rabaka

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