English R1B

Reading & Composition: Modern African American Poetry, 1940-1960

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
18 Spring 2012 Gardezi, Nilofar
TTh 9:30-11 129 Barrows

Book List

Brooks, Gwendolyn: Blacks; Hayden, Robert: Collected Poems: Robert Hayden; Tolson, Melvin B.: "Harlem Gallery" and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson;

Recommended: Raimes, Ann: Keys for Writers, 6th edition


In this course, we will examine the “lost years” of the 1940s-1960s in African American literature and culture by critically reading and writing about the poetry and history of this period. Traditional surveys of 20th-century African American poetry focus on two key literary and cultural movements: the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. While these movements were indeed important, I encourage us to investigate and see as equally important what was happening during the “gap years,” particularly the 1940s-1960s. This course will consider what is lost here as well as how and why it matters. 

During and after World War II, African Americans migrated in great numbers from the rural South to the urban North in search of better jobs and opportunities, becoming a new and burgeoning urban population. The recently arrived migrants imagined new black urban selves and created communities in neighborhoods like Chicago’s Bronzeville, Detroit’s Paradise Valley and New York’s Harlem. What were the stories of their lives in the transformed and transforming postwar cities of the North and how were they represented? African American poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank Marshall Davis, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Melvin Tolson, Margaret Walker and others wrote about these figures and communities in their innovative postwar poetry. How did they necessarily experiment with the forms of their poetry in order to tell new black urban stories? The years of the 1940s-1960s were also crucial because they witnessed the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. How were the black poets of this period keenly engaging with and responding to the eddying spirit and rising discourse of civil rights and social change in their creative work? These starting questions and others that we discover together will motivate us as we work on critical reading and writing this term.


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