The Harlem Renaissance

The Literature, Music, and Art

The Literature, Music, and Art of the Harlem Renaissance July 24 - 29, 2022


America is a nation of many voices. At key moments in our history, when social forces, popular culture and political life have coalesced, these separate voices have come together to form new national expression, new artistic achievement. The Founding Era is one example; so too is the American Renaissance of the 1850s. The period of the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century is another. Within a few decades, American art and culture flourished in ways that are still influencing our understanding of ourselves as a nation.

At the end of World War I and continuing into the Great Depression period of the 1930s, African-American artists created a community of art and cultural achievement that was remarkable. Fueled by the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South into the great cities of the Northeast and Midwest, the Harlem Renaissance brought together literature, music, visual art, dance and other art forms in an explosion of creativity. Harlem itself became the focal point not just of African American art, but also of the nightclub scene, as the Cotton Club, Small's Paradise and Connie's Inn became centers of music, dance and social life. Political life was quickened, as the NAACP and Urban League grew in stature partly through their support of Harlem artists.

The leaders of the Harlem Renaissance form a virtual who's who of African American cultural achievement: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and many others. Great jazz musicians formed a central part of the Renaissance. Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington, singers Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday, and the great dancer and fashion icon Josephine Baker.

In this program, we'll examine the historical causes and context of the Harlem Renaissance. We'll survey the major achievements of the movement, including Hughes's great lyric poetry, Hurston's fiction and the seminal essays and art of the movement. We'll also enjoy selections from the music that defined the Age of Jazz. Finally, we'll consider the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance and how this signal event continues to shape American thought and art to this very day. Serving as faculty will be Lena Hill, dean of the College; Michael Hill, professor of Africana Studies; Wendy Castenell, professor of Art History, African American Art, from the University of Alabama; and jazz expert and performer Damani Phillips, from the University of Iowa.

Contact Us

Office of Lifelong Learning
Washington and Lee University
204 W Washington Street
Lexington, Virginia 24450