Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance: A Woman's Life Unveiled

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LSU Press, 1996 - Biography & Autobiography - 496 pages
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Nella Larsen (1891-1964) is recognized as one of the most influential, and certainly one of the most enigmatic, writers of the Harlem Renaissance. With the instant success of her two novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), she became a bright light in New York's literary firmament. But her meteoric rise was followed by an equally sudden fall: In 1930 she was accused of plagiarizing a short story, and soon thereafter she disappeared from both the literary and African-American worlds of New York. She lived the rest of her life - more than three decades - out of the public eye, working primarily as a nurse. In a remarkable achievement, Thadious Davis has penetrated the fog of mystery that has surrounded Larsen to present a detailed and fascinating account of the life and work of this gifted, determined, yet vulnerable artist. The exact circumstances of Larsen's birth, especially the racial identities of her parents, probably cannot be definitively sorted out; but what is certain and most significant is that Larsen was a child of mixed race who was raised for a few years in Chicago as if she were white but then, while an adolescent, sent off to the Fisk University Normal High School with the understanding that she would prepare to assume a position among the black middle class. Throughout her life Larsen appears to have cultivated a sense of mystery about herself. She was born Nellie Walker but from childhood on changed her name several times to reflect different self-conceptions, and when she did offer information about herself, she gave differing versions of the basic facts. At first glance Larsen seems to have been a strange amalgam of arrogance and insecurity. But Davis' analysisof Larsen's personality and her position as a woman of mixed race in the America of her time - a person whom society defined as marginal in several ways - shows that such contradictions were only to be expected. In addition to unraveling the details of Larsen's personal life, Davi
  

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Contents

Beginning in Chicago 18911907
21
Going Forth into Unknown Regions 19071912
51
Training in New York 19121915
70
Sojourning in the South 19151916
89
Finding a Home 19161919
111
Working for an Education 19201923
137
Becoming a Writer 1923 1926
154
Moving to the Renaissance 19261927
198
Succeeding with Passing 19281929
287
Catching a Flying Glimpse of the Panorama
355
Struggling Against Drought 19301932
367
Sowing Dreams 19331941
398
Resting on Headlands 1941 1964
441
The Meaning ofNella Larsen I
456
Book Reviews of Quicksand
467
Copyright

Arriving with Quicksand 19271928
239

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About the author (1996)

Thadious M. Davis is Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

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