Jean Toomer's Years with Gurdjieff

Jean Toomer's Years with Gurdjieff : Portrait of an Artist, 1923-1936

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Jean Toomer (1894-1967) earned his place in American literary history with Cane (1923), a brilliant modernist collage of fiction, poetry, and drama about black life in rural Georgia and the urban North. Although Toomer continued to write prodigiously, his work went largely unpublished as he turned away from an exploration of his African American roots he had employed so powerfully in Cane. Rudolph P. Byrd examines the central reason behind Toomer's literary decline: his enthusiasm for the theories of George Gurdjieff, a contemporary Russian psychologist, philosopher, and mystic. As Toomer's work degenerated into propaganda for Gurdjieff's theories on human development and spiritual reforms, publishers turned away. Yet, Byrd makes clear that the works Toomer wrote after 1923 do not represent the total break from his earlier concerns that critics have generally assumed. Examining both Cane and the body of writings Toomer produced after it, Byrd finds a distinct thematic unity in the Toomer canon-a consistent, optimistic faith in human possibility and wholeness.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 232 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 13.46mm | 344.73g
  • Georgia, United States
  • English
  • 0820337773
  • 9780820337777
  • 2,479,969

Review quote

A creditable addition to the scholarship on a writer now firmly ensconced in American literary history.

|A compelling explanation for why Toomer lapsed into literary obscurity . . . The result is an absorbing story of a seminal figure in American literature. Byrd's excellent study belongs on the same bookshelf as Nellie McKay's Jean Toomer, Artist and Cynthia E. Kerman and Richard Eldridge's The Lives of Jean Toomer.
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About Rudolph P. Byrd

Rudolph P. Byrd was the Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies at Emory University. He is the founder and director of Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute and is founding co-chair of the Alice Walker Literary Society. He is author or editor of many books including Charles Johnson's Novels: Writing the American Palimpsest and I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde.
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