Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer

About Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer (Washington, December 26, 1894 - Doylestown, March 30, 1967) was an American novelist and poet and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Born with the name of Nathan Pinchback Toomer, he comes from various ethnic groups. His ancestors include Dutch, French, Native Americans, African Americans, Welsh, Germans and Jews. His parents were Nathan Toomer and Nina Pinchback, His maternal grandfather was Louisiana Governor Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American governor in the history of the United States.
He spent his childhood attending both whites-only schools and black-only schools, as was the custom during racial segregation in the United States. In his early years he opposed racial classifications and wanted to be identified only as an American after having first attended a black-only school in Washington, then a white school in New Rochelle, and finally a black-only school in Washington. Toomer attended six colleges between 1914 and 1917 studying agriculture, fitness, biology, sociology and history, but never graduating. The college readings and lectures shaped the direction he wanted to give his writing.
After leaving college, Toomer published a few short stories and spent a few months studying Eastern philosophies while working as a principal in Sparta, Georgia. The segregation Toomer experienced in the South led him to identify himself even more as an African American. In 1923 Toomer published the novel Canne, an important modernist work. It is considered by scholars to be his best work and consists of a series of poems and short stories about blacks in America, Canne was acclaimed by critics and is seen as one of the most important works of both the Harlem Renaissance and the lost generation.
It was very difficult for Toomer to publish in the 1930s, so in 1940 he moved to Doylestown (Pennsylvania), where he became a Quaker and began to retire from worldly life. Toomer wrote some fiction and published essays in Quaker publications, but he devoted most of his time to Quaker committees. Toomer stopped writing after 1950, and died in 1967 after a few years of poor health.

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