Teaching the Literature and the Arts
of the Harlem Renaissance
AnneSteven E. Carroll
THE LITERATURE OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE HAS ENJOYED A GOOD deal of attention in recent years. The MLA bibliography lists a multitude of new studies on writers who worked during the Renaissance, including dissertations, journal articles, and scholarly books. Many of these are single-author studies, and many recover the work of relatively unknown writers or neglected texts by more familiar writers. Primary texts—some long out of print—can be found in recent reprints and in collections of fiction, poetry, and drama, and African American literature anthologies routinely devote a good deal of attention to the period. The mammoth Norton Anthology of African American Literature, for example, includes more than four hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoirs in its section of texts from 1919 to 1940. This attention to the literature produced during the Harlem Renaissance corresponds with the way many of us teach the movement in our English Department courses: primarily as a literary phenomenon.
But a few recent works point in another direction: they place the literary output of the movement in the context of other kinds of creative work done in the early decades of the twentieth century. For example, Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition sets written texts alongside samples of African American oral and musical traditions. The section of the anthology on the Harlem Renaissance opens with discussions of the blues, gospel, jazz, toasts, sermons, and folktales; it also includes transcriptions of lyrics by the most well known performers of the period. Next are two essays calling for political and social change, followed by two essays debating the purpose and possibilities of representations of