The 1923 publication of Cane established Jean Toomer as a modernist master and one of the key literary figures of the emerging Harlem Renaissance. Though critics and biographers alike have praised his artistic experimentation and unflinching eyewitness portraits of Jim Crow violence, few seem to recognize how much Toomer's interest in class struggle, catalyzed by the Russian Revolution and the post–World War One radical upsurge, situate his masterwork in its immediate historical context. In Jean Toomer: Race, Repression, and Revolution, Barbara Foley explores Toomer's political and intellectual connections with socialism, the New Negro movement, and the project of Young America. Examining his rarely scrutinized early creative and journalistic writings, as well as unpublished versions of his autobiography, she recreates the complex and contradictory consciousness that produced Cane.Foley's discussion of political repression runs parallel with a portrait of repression on a personal level. Examining family secrets heretofore unexplored in Toomer scholarship, she traces their sporadic surfacing in Cane. Toomer's text, she argues, exhibits a political unconscious that is at once public and private.
John Reed (1887-1920) is best known as the author of Ten Days That Shook the World and as champion of the communist movement in the United States. Still, Reed remains a writer almost systematically ignored by the literary critical establishment, even if alternately vilified and lionized by historians and by films like Warren Beatty’s Reds.
John Reed and the Writing of Revolution examines Reed’s writing from a different critical perspective—one informed by a theoretical and practical understanding of literary nonfiction. In both politics and writing, John Reed defied fashion. In his short career, Reed transcended the traditional creative arts of fiction, poetry, and drama in favor of deeply researched histories composed with the cadence of fiction and the power of fact. Reed thereby alienated literary critics who had idealized timeless artistry against the rough-and-tumble world of historical details and political implications.
Working from a close investigation of rare articles, manuscripts, and the Reed papers at Harvard as well as from Reed’s published work, Daniel W. Lehman offers the first detailed literary study of the man who followed Pancho Villa into battle; wrote literary profiles of such characters as Henry Ford, William Jennings Bryan, and Billy Sunday; explicated the Byzantine factionalism of Eastern Europe; and witnessed the storming of the Winter Palace and the birth of Soviet Russia.