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Thinking Black, Writing Revolution: The Harlem Renaissance in Conversation with the Black Arts Movement

Seminar Leader:
Herman Beavers


This Teacher’s Institute seminar will focus on two important watersheds in African American literary history: the New Negro (or Harlem) Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. Our approach will begin by talking about periodization and canon formation. What does it mean to describe cultural production at a specific point in time as a “renaissance” or a “movement”? What does it mean to establish one’s artistic identity as a product of racial heritage? And in establishing the tools to describe these moments, whose work is included, and whose excluded?
Our main objective will be to understand how black artists sought to generate new understandings of the details, concerns, and frustrations that accompany being black in the 20th Century United States. During the Renaissance, we find black artists seeking legitimation from the mainstream, during the Black Arts Movement, black artists eschew the desire for mainstream legitimacy, opting instead to break free of Western aesthetics in order to create new sources of black artistic expression, many of which can be traced to the African continent.
In addition to race, we will look at how gender, class, and sexuality play a role in how we have formulated our ideas regarding literary periods and canon formation. Using two important anthologies on the New Negro Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, we will read primary sources and develop strategies for interpreting and contextualizing the works of black artists seeking to redefine what it means to be human.

Unit TitleAuthor


Sisters in the Shadows: Black Women During the Black Arts Movement

Kristian Ali
Keywords: black arts movement, black women, English, feminism, gender awareness, High School, language arts, movement, revolution, self-awareness, social justice

To Write with Fire: Unapologetic Poets of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement

Wendi Mungai Umoren
Keywords: aesthetics, African American, black arts movement, Harlem Renaissance, literary period, poetry, racism, revolution

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: It Will Be Digital

Jada L. Warfield-Henry
Keywords: black arts movement, Digital Anthology, English, Harlem Renaissance, High School, hip-hop, Historical Context

Reading Activist Playwrights, Writing Activist Plays

Anissa Weinraub
Keywords: Activist Art, black arts movement, Creative Writing, English, Theater