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(1894-1967) / Black History Month


N. Jean Toomer (1894-1967) / Black History Month. N. Jean Toomer was an acclaimed poet and novelist, an African American whose work is commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance and modernism. His novel, Cane (1923), is “a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South” composed of sketches, poems and stories. The book received a great deal of critical attention, and Toomer is celebrated as the premier African American writer of his generation.

He married Margery Latimer, a white woman, and made headlines because of the intense media scrutiny of their interracial marriage. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote of a “mixed blood romance that began with an experiment in human behavior.” It ended with Latimer’s death in 1932, shortly after giving birth to the couple’s only daughter. Two years after the death of his first wife, Toomer remarried accomplished white, Jewish photographer Marjorie Content (1895-1984). In 1935, they bought a farm in Doylestown, maintaining connections with friends in New York City. In Bucks County, he continued to write and became very involved with the Religious Society of Friends; but his ill health caused both Toomer and his wife to ultimately retire from public life.

Jean Toomer did not often identify as Black, instead describing himself as “an American.” In 1924, he said to his publisher, “Whatever statements I give will inevitably come from a synthetic human and art point of view; not from a racial one.”

Unsuspecting from The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer

There is a natty kind of mind

That slicks its thoughts,

Culls its oughts,

Trims its views,

Prunes its trues,

And never suspects it is a rind.

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