Judy Lightfoot, PhD
What was the Harlem Renaissance (HR) like? What artists belonged to the movement, and what great works were created? Achieve an overview of the HR, its persons, its themes.
To what extent was the HR a rebirth of African-American culture and affirmation of personal dignity on African-American terms, and to what extent a deliberate attempt to exploit Black arts for White American self-interest and pleasure?
What major lines of political and social thought influenced people central to the HR?
What were the conflicting pressures on Black artists? In what ways did thinkers and audiences during the HR affect their choices of subject and style?
What does studying all this about the HR contribute to your understanding of
TOPICS FOR RESEARCHED TALKS:
1. Describe the Great Migration, its causes, and its effects.
2.Summarize the history of
3. A writer or thinker of the Harlem Renaissance (other than Hurston): Tell about the person and his or her importance. Read aloud a poem or two or some passages, and discuss them. W.E.B. DuBois gives wonderful background for the HR. There are many other writers.
5. Explain how American jazz, blues, and ragtime as played during the 1920s and 1930s influenced classical composers (Gershwin, Copland, Debussy, Darius Milhaud, Bartok, Ravel). To illustrate, play some of the music for us.
6. African American painters and sculptors flourished during the Harlem Renaissance. Show us prints or slides (available from Seattle-area museums) of visual arts of the times, and explain their significance. Or choose 2-3 artists to present in detail.
7. Jacob Lawrence was only a child during the Harlem Renaissance, but he was much influenced by the art that developed among African American painters of that period. Tell us about Jacob Lawrence and his art, and show us prints or slides of it.
8. Explain the debate during the HR about what kind of language African American writers "ought to" write in, and illustrate with selections from writers who wrote (1) Standard ("white") English or (2) exaggerated, stereotypical "minstrel and mammy talk," and those who wrote in (3) Black English - realistic African-American speech idioms. What side did Hurston take in the debate? What side are you on, and why? (Go beyond "Everyone has a right to write however they wish," and "Writers who want to sell will have to offer what the public wants." As the background material suggests, the issue is not so simple.)
9. Explain the movement started by Marcus Garvey, and assess his influence.
10. Booker T. Washington, who lived before the HR, is the subject of a brief
quarrel in the last part of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Summarize
11. Describe Zora Neale Hurston's childhood in
12. Hurston studied anthropology with the famous
Franz Boas. What did she learn about her people's folkways and arts? What did
she come to value in these? Give us some background about African American
folkways in the South and/or in the
13. Choose a story, article, or book passage by Hurston (not part of Their Eyes). Summarize dramatically and succinctly, quoting excerpts where interesting and appropriate, and respond to the selection. What special qualities of Hurston's work come through here?
14. Briefly, who is Alice Walker? What is
15. Poet June Jordan was influenced by Hurston.
Briefly, who is she? Explain her views on Black English, on the poet Phyllis
Wheatley, and/or on the work of Hurston in comparison
with that of Richard Wright. Which ideas of hers do you agree and disagree
with, based on what you know of the African American experience? Choose a poem
or two of
16. Read a story by Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Eudora Welty,
Flannery O'Connor, or another white American author who writes in colloquial
speech idioms or dialect. Choose a couple of interesting passages of dialect or
colloquial writing (not more than a half-page apiece), and translate the
passages into standard written English. For your presentation, give some
background for the author, and explain why he or she used colloquial idioms in
the work your excerpt comes from. Read your dialect passage and your standard English translation aloud for comparison. Explain
in detail what is gained and lost in translation. Taking into account earlier
talks, summarize what the class has learned about the purposes and effects of
writing in oral idioms and dialect. Perhaps relate to events at
17. Introduce the class to the work of a contemporary African American poet, such as Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Ishmael Reed, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komyunakaa, Nikki Giovanni, or Derek Walcott (Nobel winner).
18. Based on research into the lives of one or more Asian American groups during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, speculate about the reasons behind there being no comparable "Renaissance" for artists in the community[ies] you study.
© Judith Lightfoot, 1999