A Jean Toomer Reader

A Jean Toomer Reader : Selected Unpublished Writings

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Jean Toomer achieved instant recognition as a critic and thinker in 1923 with the publication of his novelCane, a harsh, eloquent vision of black American hardship and suffering. But because of his reclusive, introspective nature, Toomer's fame waned in later years, and today his other contributions to American thought and literature are all but forgotten. Now, this collection of unpublished writings restores a crucial dimension to our understanding of this important African American author. Thematically arranging letters, sketches, poems, autobiography, short stories, a play, and a children's story, Frederik Rusch offers insight into Toomer's mind and spirituality, his feelings on racial identity in America, and his attitudes toward and ideas aboutCane. Rusch highlights Toomer's reflections on America, its people, landscape, and politics, reveals his significance for the problems and issues of today, and helps us understand Toomer not only as writer, but also as social critic, prophet, mystic, and idealist. Exploring Toomer's attempts to find self-realization and transcend social and cultural definitions of race, this book offers a unique view of the United States through the life of one of its most significant and fascinating intellectuals.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 312 pages
  • 157.48 x 238.76 x 22.86mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195077334
  • 9780195077339

Review Text

When in 1923 the American writer Jean Toomer (1894-1967) published Cane, his famous lyric and experimental novel of black southern life, he received immediate recognition and acknowledgment for having produced an American literary masterpiece. In the more than 40 years of his life following Cane, however, Toomer was neither to publish voluminously nor to recapture the breadth of recognition that had come to him after his first book. His life and thought, nevertheless, continued to possess passion, relevance, and consistency during the subsequent decades, and black and American literature scholar Rusch (English/John Jay College/CUNY) has compiled this welcome selection of unpublished Toomer writings in order to provide a full overview both of the author's life and of his thought. Fragments, letters (to Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson, Horace Liveright, and Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, among others), essays, fiction, poetry, even a children's story are included. "The attainment of self-realization and psychic wholeness leading to a new personal and social harmony was Toomer's aim throughout his life," writes Rusch, speaking in his introduction of Toomer's indefatigable idealism: "Toomer believed that human beings could change, transcend their ordinary lives and selves, and find true being and unity with others." Toomer himself, in a Whitmanesque fragment dated 1931 and included in the volume, writes that "There is a new race in America. I am a member of this new race. It is neither white nor black nor in-between. It is the American race, differing as much from white and black as white and black differ from each other." And in a letter to Stieglitz of October 21, 1939, he writes: "If I have not yet reached Heaven at least my feet are more firmly planted on the Earth. As every jumper knows, one must have good purchase on the ground in order really to spring up." (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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