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Study information

Harlem and After: African American Literature 1925-present

Module titleHarlem and After: African American Literature 1925-present
Module codeEAS3241
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Rob Turner (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Taking as its point of departure the landmark special issue of Survey Graphic that announced the arrival on the artistic and intellectual scene of the “New Negro” (1925), this module provides an historical survey of African American writing, 1925 to present. Focusing on a range of literary forms – including novel, short fiction, essay and poetry – the module showcases the range and diversity of African American literature in the 20th and 21st centuries. Through close readings of works by canonical, recovered and emerging writers, it encourages students to situate these texts within their historical, social, political and literary contexts.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To enable you to situate these texts within their historical context and to facilitate your consideration of the intersections between politics and aesthetics.
  • To encourage you to consider the intersection of African American literature with other art forms such as visual art, photography and music (especially jazz and blues).
  • To motivate you to evaluate the aesthetic strategies African American writers have used to challenge pervasive and ongoing racial stereotypes.
  • To stimulate you to frame your readings of African American literature within a range of theoretical and contextual frameworks, for example: modernism, postmodernism, multicultural and “post-racial” America, eco-criticism, whiteness studies, feminism and biopolitics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of key works by African American writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • 2. Enter into contemporary scholarly conversations in literary and cultural theory and relate those debates to African American literature, 1925 to present
  • 3. Compare and contrast primary texts, making connections between different texts across the module
  • 4. Engage in archival research focused on African American periodicals, availing of Exeter’s resources and digitised databases such as

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse African American literature (1925 to present) and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 7. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Through seminar work, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 9. Demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 10. Through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 11. Through research and writing, demonstrate an advanced capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

The syllabus emphasises the following aspects:

  • Key literary and political movements and moments, most particularly the Harlem Renaissance; the Civil Rights Movement; Black Power. Consistent with the prominence of the Harlem Renaissance in the module’s title, the first three weeks will be devoted to the study of fiction, poetry and essays that emerged during that key moment. Authors to be studied during the first three weeks may include Alain Locke, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. The three-week block devoted to the study of the Harlem Renaissance will also include an emphasis on periodical culture during that moment: the first assignment is designed to encourage you to read these publications, grasp their heterogeneous nature and to place the texts and contributors into a broader literary-historical context.
  • Recurring themes and preoccupations such as lynching and racial violence; whiteness, racial passing and mixed race subjectivity; motherhood and maternity; blackface minstrelsy and the commodification of blackness.
  • Formal and aesthetic innovation in African American writing, most particularly in relation to the incorporation of musical forms, rewriting canonical texts and the interplay between visual and textual vocabularies. Authors are likely to include Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars : Seminars devoted to the main readings in given week
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 1111 x 1 hour lectures: The one-hour lectures will be devoted to setting up the material for the week.
Guided independent study103Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Historical investigation402500 words1-2, 4, 5-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Essay603500 words1, 7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Historical investigationHistorical investigation1-2, 4, 5-7, 9-11Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-7, 9-11Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary texts to purchase:

  • Nella Larsen,Ã?¢ï¿½Ã?¯PassingÃ?¢ï¿½Ã?¯(1929)
  • Zora Neale Hurston,Ã?¢ï¿½Ã?¯Their Eyes Were Watching GodÃ?¢ï¿½Ã?¯(1937)
  • Ralph Ellison,Ã?¢ï¿½Ã?¯Invisible ManÃ?¢ï¿½Ã?¯(1952)
  • Toni Morrison,Ã?¢ï¿½Ã?¯BelovedÃ?¢ï¿½Ã?¯(1987)

Note that the above is an indicative list only, and that the list for the current year will be available on ELE (see below).

Selected secondary texts (all available in the library as ebooks)

  • Baker, Houston A.Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987. (ebook)
  • Balshaw, Maria. Looking for Harlem: Urban Aesthetics in African AmericanLiterature. London: Pluto P, 2000. (ebook)
  • Corbould, Clare.Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1930. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 2009. (ebook)
  • De Jongh, James. Vicious Modernism: Black Harlem and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. (ebook)
  • Foley, Barbara.Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro.Urbana and Chicago: Illinois UP, 2003. (ebook)
  • Sherrard-Johnson, Cherene. Portraits of the New Negro Woman: Visual and Literary Culture in the Harlem Renaissance.New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2007. (ebook)
  • Smethurst, James.The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance.Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2011. (ebook)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Journals available through Exeter’s elibrary:

  • African American Review
  • Callaloo
  • Modern Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS)
  • American Literary History
  • American Quarterly
  • Modern Fiction Studies
  • American Literature
  • Journal of American Studies

Cambridge Companions online – available through Exeter’s elibrary. Relevant titles include:

  • The Cambridge Companion to African American Women's Literature 
  • The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre 
  • The Cambridge History of African American Literature 
  • The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Additional resources – such as poems, short stories and essays – will be made available to students via the ELE site.

Key words search

African American literature, black literature, Harlem Renaissance, Twentieth Century, Contemporary 

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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