Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

10. Rhythms
in Poetry

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Jean Toomer - Teaching Tips

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  • It's useful to talk about "passing" in relation to Jean Toomer. He was a pivotal figure in the Harlem Renaissance, despite his relatively early exit from New York, precisely because he was able to straddle both white and black cultures so easily. Toomer's choice later in life to live as white rather than black also raises interesting questions about his art. How does he represent the struggle with racial identity? What does it mean to have the ability to change one's racial identity?

  • Depending on their familiarity with postmodern literature, your students may not find it odd that Toomer mixes poetry and prose; however, during his own day this was a highly innovative strategy. Students should be encouraged to ask what the relationship is between the prose and verse sections, as well as to question why Toomer couldn't just write Cane in one of these genres. What does Toomer say in verse that he didn't say in prose, and vice versa?

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