Harlem and After: African American Literature 1925-present (EAS3241)

StaffDr Sinead Moynihan - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

  1. To enable students to situate these texts within their historical context and to facilitate students’ consideration of the intersections between politics and aesthetics.
  2. To encourage students to consider the intersection of African American literature with other art forms such as visual art, photography and music (especially jazz and blues).
  3. To motivate students to evaluate the aesthetic strategies African American writers have used to challenge pervasive and ongoing racial stereotypes.
  4. To stimulate students to frame their 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.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 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. explore and critique the politics of literary recovery, as this question relates to African American literature, 1925 to present

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 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

  • 8. through seminar work and presentations, 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


  1. The Harlem Renaissance I: Selections from the special issue of Survey Graphic (1925)
  2. The Harlem Renaissance II: Nella Larsen, Passing (1929) and further short excerpts
  3. The Souls of Black Folk? Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and excerpts from Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983)
  4. Modernism, Music, Urbanism: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  5. From Racist Rites to Civil Rights to Black Power: Essays, Poems and Short Stories by Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Larry Neal and others
  6. Writing Whiteness: ToniMorrison, The Bluest Eye (1970) and “Recitatif” (1983)
  7. The Neo-Slave Narrative: Charles Johnson, Middle Passage  (1990)
  8. Blackness, Commodification and Capitalism: Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle (1996)
  9. Rewriting (Literary) History: Suzan Lori-Parks, Red Letter Plays (1999-2000)
  10. After Katrina: Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (2011) and Richard Wright, “Down by the Riverside” from Uncle Tom’s Children (1938)
  11. Lynching, Spectacle and the African American Graphic Novel: Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, Incognegro (2008) and other excerpts, songs and images

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
Guided Independent33Study Group Preparation and Meetings
Guided Independent70Individual Seminar Preparation
Guided Independent164Reading, Research and Essay Preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation in week 5 (during the one-hour seminar) on visual art or music associated with the Black Arts Movement10 minutes1-11Oral feedback via tutorial

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 Investigation352000 words1, 2, 4, 5-7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Annotated Bibliography151000 words1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9-11Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Essay503000 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
Annotated BibliographyAnnotated Bibliography1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9-11Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-7, 9-11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Primary Texts to purchase:


Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)


Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)


ToniMorrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)


Charles Johnson, Middle Passage  (1990)

Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle (1996)

Suzan Lori-Parks, Red Letter Plays (2002)

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (2011)


Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, Incognegro (2008)


Selected Secondary Texts (all available in the library):


Awkward, Michael. New Essays on Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.


Appel, Alfred. Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce. New Haven: Yale UP, 2004.


Baker, Houston A. Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.


 ---. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.


 ---. Workings of the Spirit: the Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing. London: U of Chicago P, 1991.


Balshaw, Maria. Looking for Harlem: Urban Aesthetics in African American Literature. London: Pluto, 2000.


Bay, Mia. The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas About White People, 1830-1925. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.


Brown, Fahamisha Patricia. Performing the Word: African-American Poetry as Vernacular Culture. London: Rutgers UP, 1999.


Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, ed. Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930.  Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2011.


Elam, Michele. The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics and Aesthetics in the New Millennium.  Redwood: Stanford UP, 2011.

Ginsberg, Elaine K., ed. Passing and the Fictions of Identity.  Durham: Duke UP, 1996.

Jarrett, Gene Andrew. Representing the Race: A New Political History of African American Literature.  New York: New York UP, 2011.

Moynihan, Sinéad. Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing.  Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010.

Smethurst, James.  The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance.  Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2011.

Taylor, Yuval and Jake Austen, eds. Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop.  New York: Norton, 2012.


Wald, Gayle. Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture.  Durham: Duke UP, 2000.

Warren, Kenneth, What Was African American Literature? Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011.


Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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– all available through Exeter’s elibrary.  

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

A module pack containing poems, short stories and essays will be made available to students via the ELE site

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date