Cheryl A. Wall
Indiana University Press, 1995
For her multidimensional study, Professor Wall chooses to use the most expansive definition of the Harlem Renaissance in order to include writers whose work was published during the Depression and women like Ann Spencer, who lived outside of Harlem. But while Professor Wall discusses the significant contributions of Spencer, Marita Bonner and Georgia Douglas Johnson, her focus is firmly on three central figures: Jessie Redmon Fauset, Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston. Wall offers a wealth of information and insight on their work, lives and interaction with other writers. The three women are quite different. The vivacious Fauset (Plum Bun) was a middle-class, well-traveled northerner who, as literary editor of W.E.B. Du Bois's The Crisis from 1919 to 1926, came to know many of the great literary figures of the time. Larsen had a more tumultuous background and never fit in anywhere until her move to Harlem. It was then that she wrote her acclaimed Quicksand and Passing, the novels that made her part of the inner circle before she disappeared almost as quickly as she appeared. The most celebrated woman writer of the period, Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules & Men) was also one of the era's few true daughters of the rural South and spent most of the years of the Harlem Renaissance on the road. Professor Wall offers strong critiques of these women's work, uncovering certain similarities, including, most importantly, the travel motif as not only a reflection of the mass migrations of the day but also a larger dislocation.