illustrations ©2011 Randy DuBurke

 

JEAN TOOMER

Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967) was born Nathan Eugene Toomer in New Orleans. His mother's family was wealthy and influential in Louisiana, where her father, Pickney B.S. Pinchback, had been the only African-American ever to have served as governor. Toomer’s father, Nathan Toomer, Sr., was the son of a slave, and left the family before young Nathan was born. Jean was raised in his grandfather’s household in affluent areas of New Orleans and Washington, D.C., where he was not exposed to racism until he entered high school in Washington. He attended various colleges, including the University of New York and the University of Wisconsin, but did not graduate, instead choosing to independently pursue his interests in literature and philosophy. In 1921 he moved to Georgia where he served as interim principal of the Sparta Agricultural and Industrial Institute. Toomer’s parents were of African-American descent, but the entire family could pass for white. Living in the rural South stimulated Jean’s racial consciousness, and he used this new identification with his racial past to create his most famous work, Cane, in 1923. The novel incorporated a number of his previously published short stories including “Becky.”

African-American Classics:
Graphic Classics Volume 22

144 pages, color, $15

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