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Invisible Darkness: Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen
by Charles R. Larson
University of Iowa Press, 1993
eISBN: 978-1-58729-130-2 | Paper: 978-0-87745-437-3
Library of Congress Classification PS3539.O478Z73 1993
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.5209896073


Invisible Darkness offers a striking interpretation of the tortured lives of the two major novelists of the Harlem Renaissance: Jean Toomer, author of Cane (1923), and Nella Larsen, author of Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). Charles R. Larson examines the common belief that both writers "disappeared" after the Harlem Renaissance and died in obscurity; he dispels the misconception that they vanished into the white world and lived unproductive and unrewarding lives.

In clear, jargon-free language, Larson demonstrates the opposing views that both writers had about their work vis-à-vis the incipient black arts movement; he traces each writer's troubled childhood and describes the unresolved questions of race that haunted Toomer and Larsen all of their lives. Larson follows Toomer through the wreckage of his personal life as well as the troubled years of his increasingly quirky spiritual quest until his death in a nursing home in 1967. Using previously unpublished letters and documents, Larson establishes for the first time the details of Larsen's life, illustrating that virtually every published fact about her life is incorrect.

With an innovative chronology that breaks the conventions of the traditional biographical form, Larson narrates what happened to both of these writers during their supposed years of withdrawal. He demonstrates that Nella Larsen never really gave up her fight for creative and personal fulfillment and that Jean Toomer's connection to the Harlem Renaissance—and the black world—is at best a dubious one. This strong revisionist interpretation of two major writers will have a major i mpact on African American literary studies.

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