HENB0115DU English - Elective 4, topic 1: Reinventing the Southern Renaissance

Volume 2016/2017



Between roughly 1930 and 1955, the U.S. South experienced a period of significant literary production that was unprecedented in the region’s—and arguably the nation’s--history. Termed the “Southern Renascence” by one of its leading practitioners and theorists, Allen Tate, this body of work has usually been seen as a literature about (the burden of) history and memory in the post-Confederate South (“the past in the present,” in Tate’s famous term); the traditional (rural, agricultural) South’s encounter with modernity (urbanism, industrialism, capitalism), and with literary modernism; and the South’s unique sense of place and community. 

This course will consider these themes as they are conveyed in the work of leading Renascence writers including Tate, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor. However, we will also explore revisionist readings of the Renaissance. We will consider the ways in which the Agrarians--a group that included Tate, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson--and their neo-Agrarian literary-critical disciples invented southern literature along certain ideological lines. We will assess writers who were largely excluded from the Agrarian and neo-Agrarian southern literary canon: for example, African American authors (Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, John O. Killens); writers who took certain explicitly political positions in the context of the period between the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement (Wright, Killens), and in their representation of poor white southerners (James Agee); and authors who addressed sexuality in various forms (most of the above plus Truman Capote).

We will also interrogate the foundational terms of southern literary studies, an academic field that was institutionalized in universities during and after the 1950s, and was heavily influenced by the Agrarians. To what extent has the oft-cited “sense of place” masked inequality along race, class and geographical lines? Is Scott Romine justified in his argument that southern “community” has been more coercive than (as Cleanth Brooks once claimed) cohesive? What histories have been excluded from the Agrarian version of “southern literature”? Why were Wright and Hurston defined as “Negro writers” but not “southern writers,” and how might the Southern Renaissance be seen in relation to the Harlem Renaissance? In addressing these questions, we will read a range of primary texts (novels, short stories, essays, autobiography), alongside a selection of secondary documents and criticism.

Primary course texts will be (to be confirmed, subject to change):

  • Twelve Southerners, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (with new introduction by Susan Donaldson)
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
  • Eudora Welty, A Curtain of Green and Other Stories
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children
  • James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
  • Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms
  • Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
  • John Oliver Killens, Youngblood
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 162,75
  • Total
  • 204,75
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment