In this lesson, students develop and write personal narratives by reading and analyzing personal narratives by Langston Hughes, Gladys Bentley, and Louis Armstrong. In the process, they also learn about the culture and ideals of the Harlem Renaissance, and discuss how personal narratives can reflect a moment of history.
Personal narratives are powerful. They can provide a glimpse into the life of another person, they can create emotional connection through shared experience, or they can offer insight on life’s joys and struggles. Personal narratives also serve as historical documents, revealing how the writer experienced a particular moment in time. Whether in the form of a song, diary entry, short story, poem, or letter, personal narratives are rarely just simple stories.
To help guide and inspire their own personal narratives, this lesson introduces students to the personal narratives of four artists who greatly influenced the Harlem Renaissance – a period of artistic, political, and cultural flourishing that occurred among Black communities in Harlem, New York, and beyond during the early 20th century. Students analyze the personal narratives of Blues and Jazz musicians Gladys Bentley and Louis Armstrong, as well as writer Langston Hughes, to gain insight into how to write compelling personal narratives. Reading accounts from these figures also allows students to consider what life might have been like during the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most important periods of Black History.