The Letters of Jean Toomer
Author: Mark Whalan
Jean Toomer was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance and in the twentieth-century modernist movement, and this represents the first-ever annotated collection of his correspondence. The letters included in the volume were written in the five years surrounding Toomer’s publication of his seminal work, Cane, and lend unique insight into the life, aesthetics, politics, and work of a central figure in American literature of the early twentieth century. This compilation offers insight into Toomer’s simultaneous feelings of attraction to and estrangement from rural Southern life, the influence of technology on race and urban existence in America, and the contradictory pulls of folk culture and modernist experimentation. The collection also charts the motives underlying Toomer’s abandonment of the style that distinguished Cane, and his growing fascination with the teachings of the mystic G. I. Gurdjieff in 1924. On a more personal level, Toomer’s struggles with creative isolation and the small world of black Washington society-and later with the New York literary avant garde-are made evident, as are his intense and often domineering relationships with women. His correspondents constituted a who’s who of 1920s intellectual life, including Alain Locke, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Countée Cullen, Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, and Hart Crane.