|Name||Sex and Gender in the Harlem Renaissance|
|Course||WGSA 29005 (25108/28088/48722)|
|Day / Time||Thursday; 2:30 pm - 3:45 pm|
|Semester||Spring Session 1 2023, Spring Session 2 2023|
|Notes||Section 01 / Cross listed under ENG 250 and AFPRL 290|
The Harlem Renaissance is one of the landmarks of black American literary, artistic and intellectual history, an always-needed reminder that black art is foundational to, not an offshoot of, something we might lazily label as “American culture.” This watershed moment marked the emergence of a distinctive current of modern black expression, involving a stunning gathering of black writers who sought to give expression to African American lives in all their beauty and complexity. To be sure, this beauty and complexity embodied the weird curves of desire and pleasure. Central to the sexual revolution of the “Roaring Twenties,” Harlem becomes a heterotopic space where sex and gender queerness—in the most expansive sense of the term—is possible. Breaking out of or completely disregarding the strictures of heteronormativity and its attendant racialized gender categories, black writers reimagined not only what “American literature” could be but also what it meant to be a “proper” (black) man or woman: novels critical of marriage and motherhood; a homoeroticism that was impossible to separate from literary innovation; the jazz singer defining her own sexuality in defiance of white supremist caricatures; interracial shared spaces and intimacy; black women choosing to be writers with no concern for respectability; the unsettling ways in which colorism might give shape to our desires; dandyism and high black faggotry; lesbian desire embedded in tropes of racial passing. This by no means exhaustive list underscores the ways in which the invention of race always already conditions one’s gender and sexuality. The writers that we will study this semester place this impossible-to disentangle inheritance from New World slavery at the center of their works, whether done with sly opacity or super extra bravado, perhaps correcting and expanding Gates’ formulation: the Harlem Renaissance was as surely queer as it was black. We might well discover that separating queerness—whether in the form of the non-reproductive woman or gay man—from blackness will prove to be impossible in challenging and pleasurable ways. To risk flirting with (black) ontology, is there something about the unique literary styles of the Harlem Renaissance specifically and a black aesthetic more broadly that might capture the reality of what we today often call the intersectionality of race, gender, class and sex?