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 you to situate these texts within their historical context and to facilitate your consideration of the intersections between politics and aesthetics.
  2. 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).
  3. To motivate you to evaluate the aesthetic strategies African American writers have used to challenge pervasive and ongoing racial stereotypes.
  4. 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.

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 written by African American writers, making connections between different texts across the module
  • 4. engage in archival research focused on African American periodicals, availing of resources such as Opportunity (available on microfiche at Exeter) and digitised databases such as ModJourn.org

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. demonstrate an advance ability to analyse literary texts and to relate their concerns and their modes of expression to their 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

The syllabus emphasises the following aspects: 1) key literary and political movements and moments, most particularly the Harlem Renaissance; the Civil Rights Movement; Black Power; Hurricane Katrina. 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 will 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 2) 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 3) 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 to be studied will include Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Suzan Lori-Parks, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Jesmyn Ward and Mat Johnson.

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
Two Hour Seminar22Seminars devoted to the main readings in given week
One hour seminar11The one-hour seminars will be devoted to either setting up the material for that week, or thinking through the legacies of that material. As such, some weeks, the one-hour seminars will take place immediately before the two-hour one; some weeks immediately after. The teaching will always be in a three-hour block.
Guided Independent Study103seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study164reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method

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
Essay6035001, 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

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary Texts to purchase:


Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

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


Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)


Fran Ross, Oreo (1974)


Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)


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

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

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

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