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Poets of the Harlem Renaissance and Students’ Poetic Perceptions of Contemporary Issues

Author: Kemo Donita Logan


Anna Shaw Middle School

Year: 2007

Seminar: 20th Century American Literature

Grade Level: 7

Keywords: African American literature, Compare and contrast, Harlem Renaissance, literacy revolution, poetry, social activism, social themes

School Subject(s): African American Literature, English, Literature, Poetry

My goal is to have the eighth grade students of Shaw Middle School reflect and discuss social themes that were prevalent during the Harlem Renaissance period, then compare and contrast them to social themes of today. I will go over the purpose of poetry, several short poetry readings and discussions to introduce students for poetry appreciation. This will take place during reading and writing classes for four to five weeks in the months of April and May.

Using their prior knowledge students will visualize what the Harlem Renaissance poets were describing from books and every day life experiences. Dr. Anna H. Shaw Middle School EMO is in the Southwest Philadelphia serving students in seventh and eighth grades with enrollment of 400 students.

The Harlem Renaissance was an African-American cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s, continued through the early years of the Great Depression, and faded during the build up to World War II. It was the first concentrated involvement of African American artist, writers, musicians, singers, and intellectuals in an artistic and cultural movement that spoke to the realities of the color line. The Renaissance took place in Harlem, which was the focal point of the intellectual, cultural and artistic life in the African American community. Cities that were also important to blacks than Harlem were Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Boston because of the black political, social, cultural life and the arts.

The recently migrated sought and found new opportunities, both economic and artistic. African Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to become “The New Negro,” a term coined in 1925 by sociologist and critic Alain LeRoy Locke in his influential book of the same name (Locke 129-144). No place embodied this new aesthetic more than Harlem, home to a thriving artistic scene of magazines like The Crisis, cafes, jazz clubs, and scores of reading venues. The major figures of this movement were enlightened by education and nourished by folk sources such as black music and the black church. More than a literary revolution or social activism, the Harlem Renaissance extolled African American culture and celebrated its singular, unique expression. By 1925, New York Harlem emerged as the black metropolis, the capital of African American (Wintz 5-25). The students will read selections from Countee Cullen, Anne Spencer, Angelina Grimke, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes. Students will learn more about African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Download Unit: 07.05.06.pdf

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