Blogmas Day 11: Reviewing Every Book I read in my Harlem Renaissance Class

Welcome back to the eleventh day of blogmas! I am so happy to have you here for my book reviews today.

I briefly mentioned a few times that I did a lot of reading for school this semester. That’s because I was taking two English classes this semester! (Something I am never doing again by the way, there’s a reason I’m not an English major). So for the last two days of blogmas I am going to take the time to review all of the books I read in those two classes. Today I am going to cover all the books I read for my Harlem Renaissance class.

As a quick note, in case you aren’t familiar, the Harlem Renaissance covers a period roughly from 1917 to 1935 where there was a renewed interest in African-American art. During that time, there was an incredible amount of paintings, books, music, and other art being created. Moreover, it was becoming more widespread. Since I took an English class on the Renaissance, we focused mostly on the literature of the time period. We read lots of poems and excerpts of books for class, as well as six full books.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

I have to say, this book is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. It is a fictionalized version of an autobiography, written in the first person. It follows the life of a man who with a Black mother and white father, and his many adventures and trials. It is very much in the early twentieth century style where it just followed someone through their life. As he travels all through the United States and the world, he observes and reflects on race and racial perspectives, which were really interesting to read. All in all, I found myself really interested in his life, and I just wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. If you’re looking for something to read just for fun, this is not the first book on this list I would recommend, but if you are at all interested in the history of the period and race relations of the time, I would definitely recommend it.

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

I have never considered myself to be a poetry person, but after reading this book I had to reconsider that a bit just because I loved it so much. At the very least, I am a Langston Hughes person. This book of poetry is so beautiful. It contains some of Hughes’ best poetry, they are just phenomenal. And because it’s poetry, it’s a super short read! If you are at all interested in poetry, or even if you are not, you have got to read this book.

The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman

This is potentially my favorite book we read in class. It follows Emma Lou Morgan, a dark skinned girl from Boise, as she travels throughout the United States and searches for community and belonging. This book is notable because it was really the first book published to discuss colorism. Emma Lou faces colorism from others, but she also deals with a lot of internalized colorism; and the reader really gets to see how both of those things are detrimental to her. It’s really interesting because she so desperately wants to be loved, but she also refuses to interact with people who aren’t the “right” type of Black people. So the history behind the novel is really rich, but it is also just a really interesting story. I definitely recommend this one, I think it is one of the best and most important books to come out of the Renaissance.

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Larsen’s second novel, Passing, has gotten a lot of attention in the past year. However, for class we read her first novel, Quicksand. This is another one that I would definitely recommend. In a twist on the tragic mulatto trope, it follows Helga Crane in her Journey for self-discovery. Like in many of these books, Helga travels all throughout the United States and into Europe. Even though the ending is…a Nella Larsen ending, it is such a fascinating story, and Helga is such a strong character. As one of the first prominent female authors of the Renaissance, Larsen explores womanhood, sexuality, and what it means to be a biracial woman. I really enjoyed reading Quicksand, I think it’s a worthwhile read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston

And now I have to end this on a bit of a low note. Not a low note necessarily, but I just didn’t like Their Eyes Were Watching God as much as I did the other books we read. It wasn’t bad or anything, it’s just that it was fine. There was some really good imagery and metaphor usages, Hurston is definitely a skilled writer in that way. I mean the pear tree blooming in the first chapter to illustrate Janie’s entrance into womanhood and sexuality? Amazing. And I loved watching Janie grow into herself, and become free to do what she wanted, even if it wasn’t what the world thought she should want. She is a really strong character that I think people can look up to. However, I just wasn’t as into the main plot as some of the others, I just wasn’t quite as invested. Nonetheless, it’s definitely an important book, and I’m glad I read it.

An image of blue flowers on a white background.

And those are the six books that I read in my Harlem Renaissance class this semester! Honestly, not all of the class was great, but I did really enjoy the books that we read. A lot of them are incredibly worthwhile, especially if you are at all interested in the history of the time period.

Have you read any of these books? Are there any that you would like to read? Have you ever studied the Harlem Renaissance in school?

Thanks again for joining me on today’s blogmas post! And I hope you will join me again tomorrow for the final day of my twelve days of blogmas where I will be reviewing every book I read in my Queer cultures class. Until then, have a lovely day!

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