The Harlem Renaissance writer's innovative and groundbreaking novel depicting African American life in the South and North, with a foreword by National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree Zinzi Clemmons.
Jean Toomer (1894-1967) was an African American novelist and
poet who wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. The son of a
mixed-race freedman born into slavery who later joined ranks with
the mulatto elite in Washington, D.C., Toomer's lighter skin and
upbringing in all-white schools and neighborhoods caused him to not
identify as black or white, but rather an American who represented
a new mixed race. Despite his refusal to be bound or classified by
race, Toomer is considered one of the most important African
American writers to come of the Harlem Renaissance, as his
non-stereotypical depiction of African Americans in Cane
(which was inspired by his time teaching at a rural school in
Georgia) set a groundbreaking precedent for the honest portrayal of
the black experience in America.
George Hutchinson is a Newton C. Farr Professor of American Culture at Cornell University. He is the author of In Search of Nella Larsen,and The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White. Most recently he brought to light Anita Thompson Reynolds' memoir, American Cocktail- A 'Colored Girl' in the World. He also edited The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance.
Zinzi Clemmons was raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an American father. Her novel What We Lose earned her a spot on National Book's 5 Under 35 list in 2015 and was a NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize finalist. Clemmons lives in Los Angeles with her husband, where she teaches at the Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College.
"[Toomer] is American literature's greatest, most enduring enigma.
. . . But here, in this lush, bleak book, in his evocation of the
world as it is instead of how it ought to be, something hardier,
more useful is conveyed -- of the possibilities for epiphany, the
reliable consolations of love and revenge. And in his style -- this
pastiche of poem, autobiography and fable -- there is an
integration of the self that the life never afforded."
--Parul Sehgal, The New York Times "Over the past 95 years this Harlem Renaissance 'experiment' -- a mosaic of poems, vignettes and short stories, many of these last being shocking studies of loneliness and the longing for love -- has risen from relative obscurity to become what it always was, a groundbreaking work of 20th-century American literature."
--Michael Dirda, The Washington Post