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ENGL408: Modern Poetry and Poetics

Unit 7: Politics and the Harlem Renaissance   African American modernism, often referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, is crucial to the history of modernist poetry. Starting in the 1920s and 30s, Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Jessie Redmon Fauset wrote poems that explored the African American experience and the challenges of modernity. Poems from the Harlem Renaissance showed concerns with grief, populist ideas, and pride and celebration of African American heritage and culture. The poems focused on intellectualism, explored free verse, and aimed to strengthen the voice of the speaker. In later years, writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, and Robert Hayden created new poetic forms in dialogue with both the Harlem Renaissance and broader developments in American and African American culture.
 
In this unit, you will explore African American modernist poetry, and you will analyze its development, its unique features, and how these poems achieved (or attempted to achieve) certain political aims. As you study the poets and poems in this unit, consider how the themes and poetic devices used during the Harlem Renaissance fit into the modernist idea of making something new. Also, consider how culture and politics transformed the movement.

Unit 7 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 18.25 hours.

☐    Subunit 7.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 7.2: 12 hours

☐    Subunit 7.2.1: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 7.2.2: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 7.2.3: 1 hour

☐    Subunit 7.2.4: 2.5 hours

☐    Subunit 7.2.5: 4.5 hours

☐    Subunit 7.3: 3.25 hours

Unit7 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you should be able to:  - analyze the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, and relate it to other styles of modernist and socially engaged American poetry of the 1920s and 1930s; - discuss the appeal of communism among this group, especially in the 1930s; and - identify the most influential African American modernist poets and discuss their literary projects.

7.1 The Harlem Renaissance   - Reading: Poets.org: “A Brief Guide to the Harlem Renaissance” Link: Poets.org: “A Brief Guide to the Harlem Renaissance” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read “A Brief Guide to the Harlem Renaissance.” As
you read, consider the following study question: What were the most
important characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance?  

 Reading this article and answering the question above should take
approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Yale New Haven Teachers Institute: Caroline Jackson’s “Harlem Renaissance: Pivotal Period in the Development of Afro-American Culture” Link: Yale New Haven Teachers Institute: Caroline Jackson’s “Harlem Renaissance: Pivotal Period in the Development of Afro-American Culture” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article on the Harlem Renaissance. This reading provides an introduction to the movement as well as analyzes the styles of McKay, Cullen, Hughes, and Toomer, using excerpts from poem to support the analysis. Take notes on the most influential figures of the Harlem Renaissance and the most important events of this period.

    Reading this article should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: John Carroll University: The Harlem Renaissance Multimedia Resource Link: John Carroll University: The Harlem Renaissance Multimedia Resource(HTML)

    Instructions: Read the introduction. Then, click on the following tabs to learn about various aspects of the Harlem Renaissance and to explore this multimedia resource: Education, Performers, French Connection, Literature, Political Issues, Religion, and Philosophy. Make sure to focus on the “Literature” section, and explore any embedded links.
     
    After exploring all of these topics, write a paragraph in which you describe the most important features of the Harlem Renaissance in your own words. Consider posting your paragraph to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.
     
    Exploring this resource and completing the writing activity should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

7.2 Creating the Canon of Black Poetry and Individual Legacies   7.2.1 W.E.B. Dubois’ “The Strivings of Negro People”   - Reading: The University of Virginia: W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Strivings of Negro People” Link: The University of Virginia: W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Strivings of Negro People” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read Du Bois’ “The Strivings of Negro People.” This
is an influential essay published by W.E.B. Du Bois in the *Atlantic
Monthly* in 1897.  
    
 As you read, consider the following study questions and writing
prompt: Why do you think this essay became so important? How does Du
Bois characterize the cultural predicament of African Americans?
Write a paragraph to summarize your thoughts. Consider posting your
paragraph to the [ENGL408 Course Discussion
Board](http://forums.saylor.org/forum/english/ENGL408/), and respond
to other students’ posts.  

 Reading this essay, answering the questions above, and completing
the writing activity should take approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

7.2.2 James Weldon Johnson   - Reading: James Weldon Johnson (ed.)’s The Book of American Negro Poetry: “Preface” Link: James Weldon Johnson (ed.)’s The Book of American Negro Poetry: “Preface” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read James Weldon Johnson’s “Preface” to *The Book of
American Negro Poetry.* As you read, take notes on the text,
focusing on how Johnson’s “Preface” characterizes the achievements
and contributions of African Americans.  

 Reading this text should take approximately 3 hours.  

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7.2.3 Claude McKay   - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Claude McKay” Link: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Claude McKay” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this biographical essay to learn about McKay’s
life and his poetry.  
    
 Reading this essay should take approximately 30 minutes.  

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  • Reading: Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” and “The Harlem Dancer” Link: Poetry Foundation: Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (HTML) and University of Pennsylvania:  “The Harlem Dancer” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read McKay’s poems: “If We Must Die” and “The Harlem Dancer.” As you study these poems, consider the following study questions: How do these poems engage social issues? How does each poem’s form affect its message?

    Studying these poems and answering the questions above should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

7.2.4 Countee Cullen   - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Countee Cullen” Link: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Countee Cullen” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this biographical essay to learn about the life
and works of Countee Cullen.  

 Reading this essay should take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: The Poetry Foundation: Countee Cullen’s “A Brown Girl Dead,” “Heritage,” and “For Amy Lowell” Link: The Poetry Foundation: Countee Cullen’s “A Brown Girl Dead” (HTML), “Heritage” (HTML), and “For Amy Lowell” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read Cullen’s poems: “A Brown Girl Dead,” “Heritage,” and “For Amy Lowell.” Compare the poems’ formal qualities and their message.
     
    As you study these poems, consider the following study questions and writing prompt: What are the universal aspects of these poems? What are their political aspects? How would you characterize the speaker’s attitude toward life? Based on what you learned about Amy Lowell’s poetry, how do you think Lowell might have responded to Cullen’s poem? Write a few paragraphs to summarize your thoughts, using evidence from the course materials to support your ideas. Consider posting your written response to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

    Studying these poems, answering the questions above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

7.2.5 Langston Hughes   - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Langston Hughes” Link: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Langston Hughes” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this biographical essay to learn about Hughes’
life and the role he played in the Harlem Renaissance.  

 Reading this essay should take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: Yale University: Professor Langdon Hammer’s “Lecture 15: Langston Hughes” Link: Yale University: Professor Langdon Hammer’s “Lecture 15: Langston Hughes” (HTML)

    Instructions: Watch this lecture and take notes on Professor Hammer’s analysis of Hughes’ poetry and his historical context.

    Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

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  • Reading: The Poetry Foundation: Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” Link: The Poetry Foundation: Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read the introductory note as well as Hughes’ essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” As you read, consider the following study question: How does Hughes analyze the relationship between race and poetry?

    Reading this essay and answering the question above should take approximately 45 minutes.

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  • Reading: The Poetry Foundation: Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker” Link: The Poetry Foundation: Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read Alexander’s essay, “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker.” As you read, consider the following study question: What does Alexander’s essay add to your understanding of the Harlem Renaissance?
     
    Reading this essay and answering the question above should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: YouTube: Langston Hughes’ “Ku Klux” Link: YouTube: Langston Hughes’ “Ku Klux” (YouTube)

    Instructions: Listen to this audio version of Hughes’ “Ku Klux” read aloud. If necessary, listen to the poem read aloud multiple times.
     
    As you listen to this recording, consider the following questions and writing prompt: What is the meaning of this poem? How does this connect to a political, social, and historical context? What is the mood of this poem? How does irony function in this poem? Write a paragraph to summarize your analysis. Consider posting your paragraph to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

    Listening to this poem, answering the questions above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Modern American Poetry: Onwucheka Jemie, Bartholomew Brinkman, and John Moore’s “On ‘Ku Klux’” Link: Modern American Poetry: Onwucheka Jemie, Bartholomew Brinkman, and John Moore’s “On ‘Ku Klux’” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this collection of analyses on Hughes’ “Ku Klux,” compiled by the Modern American Poetry project.
     
    As you read, consider the following study question: What are the similarities and differences between these analyses and your own interpretation of Hughes’ “Ku Klux”?
     
    Reading this text and answering the question above should take approximately 45 minutes.

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  • Reading: Modern American Poetry: James Smethurst’s “Langston Hughes in the 1930s” Link: Modern American Poetry: James Smethurst’s “Langston Hughes in the 1930s” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read Smethurst’s essay on Langston Hughes. As you read, consider the following question: What is the rationale for Hughes’ interest in Communism?

    Reading this essay and answering the question above should take approximately 30 minutes.

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7.3 Cultural Challenges of Three African-American Women Poets   - Reading: Poets.org: Anthony Walton’s “Double-Bind: Three Women of the Harlem Renaissance” Link: Poets.org: Anthony Walton’s “Double-Bind: Three Women of the Harlem Renaissance” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Walton’s essay on the women of the Harlem Renaissance.
 
As you read, consider the following study question: How does this essay characterize the dilemmas and challenges faced by African American women poets during the Harlem Renaissance? Write a paragraph to summarize your thoughts. Consider posting your paragraph to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.
 
Reading this essay, answering the question above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 45 minutes.

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

7.3.1 Jesse Redmon Fauset   - Reading: Poets.org: Jesse Redmon Fauset’s “Dead Fires” and “La Vie C'est La Vie” Link: Poets.org: Jesse Redmon Fauset’s “Dead Fires” (HTML) and “La Vie C'est La Vie” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read Fauset’s poems: “Dead Fires” and “La Vie C’est
La Vie.” As you study these poems, consider the following study
questions: What are your interpretations of these poems? What
cultural challenges are explored in these poems? What is their
formal structure? How would you compare these to other Harlem
Renaissance poems you have read so far? Studying these poems and
answering the questions above should take approximately 30
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

7.3.2 Georgia Douglas Johnson   - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “Common Dust” and “Smothered Fires” Link: The Poetry Foundation: Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “Common Dust” (HTML) and “Smothered Fires” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read Johnson’s poems: “Common Dust” and “Smothered Fires.” Identify the formal qualities, tone, and imagery in these poems.
 
As you read, consider the following study questions: What cultural challenges are expressed in these poems? How would you compare these poems to Jesse Redmon Fauset’s poems?
 
Studying these poems and answering the questions above should take approximately 30 minutes.

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Poet.org: Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “Black Woman” and “The Heart of a Woman” Link: Poet.org: Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “Black Woman” (HTML) and “The Heart of a Woman” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read Johnson’s poems: “Black Woman” and “The Heart of a Woman.” Identify the formal qualities, dominant tone, and imagery in these poems.
     
    As you read, consider the following study questions: What cultural challenges are expressed in these poems? How would you compare them to Jesse Redmon Fauset’s poems that you studied in the previous subunit?

     

    Studying these poems and answering the questions above should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

7.3.3 Gwendolyn Bennett   - Reading: Poets.org: Gwendolyn Bennett’s “Quatrains,” “Fantasy,” “Sonnet 1,” and “Sonnet 2” Link: Poets.org: Gwendolyn Bennett’s “Quatrains” (HTML), “Fantasy” (HTML), “Sonnet 1” (HTML), and “Sonnet 2” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read Bennett’s poems: “Quatrains,” “Fantasy,” “Sonnet
1,” and “Sonnet 2.” Identify the formal qualities, dominant tone,
and imagery in these poems.  
    
 As you read these poems, consider the following study questions and
writing prompt: How would you compare them with other Harlem
Renaissance poems? What cultural challenges are expressed in these
poems? Write a paragraph to summarize your analysis of the poems of
Gwendolyn Bennet, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Jesse Redmon Fauset.
Consider posting your paragraph to the [ENGL408 Course Discussion
Board](http://forums.saylor.org/forum/english/ENGL408/), and respond
to other students’ posts.  

 Studying these poems, answering the questions above, and completing
the writing activity should take approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

Unit 7 Assessment   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 7 Assessment” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 7 Assessment” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Consider the essay prompts for this assessment, and craft an essay founded on your readings from this unit. After writing your essay, use the “Rubric for Effectively Written College-Level Essays” (PDF) to self-evaluate your writing.
 
Tips and Suggestions: If you have an ePortfolio account, then it may be beneficial to upload or link to your essay from the Work Samples section of your profile. In combination with the Study Groups function or the ENGL408 Discussion Forum, using your ePortfolio profile may be a good way to receive peer feedback on your written work. If you do not yet have an ePortfolio account, you can create one here, free of charge.
 
Completing this assessment should take approximately 3 hours.