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Remember the Ladies: Jessie Fauset

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jessie Redmon Fauset (April 27, 1882 – April 30, 1961), American editor, poet, essayist and novelist

Jessie Redmon Fauset (April 27, 1882 – April 30, 1961), American editor, poet, essayist and novelist

Jessie Redmon Fauset (April 27, 1882 – April 30, 1961) was an American editor, poet, essayist and novelist.

Fauset was the literary editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis. She also was the editor and co-author for the African-American children’s magazine The Brownies’ Book. She studied the teachings and beliefs of W.E.B Du Bois and considered him to be her mentor. Fauset was known as one of the most intelligent women novelists of the Harlem Renaissance, earning her the name “the midwife”. In her lifetime she wrote four novels as well as poetry and short fiction.

Life and work
Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset. Jessie’s mother died when she was a child and her father remarried. Fauset came from a large family mired in poverty. She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and became the school’s first African-American graduate. She wanted to study at Bryn Mawr College but they circumvented the issue of admitting a black student by finding her a scholarship for another university and so she continued her education at Cornell University. she graduated from Cornell University in 1905 with a degree in classical languages. It was speculated that she was the first black woman in the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Fauset later received her Master’s degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Following graduation Fauset became a teacher at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, spending her summers in Paris studying at la Sorbonne. In 1919 Fauset left teaching and became the literary editor for the The Crisis alongside W.E.B. Du Bois until 1926. Fauset became a member of the NAACP and represented them in the Pan African Congress in 1921. After her Congress speech, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority made her an honorary member.

Fauset married insurance broker Herbert Harris in 1929 at the age of 47. Harris died in 1958. She then moved back to Philadelphia with her stepbrother. Fauset died on April 30, 1961, from heart disease.

Novels
Between 1924 and 1933, Fauset produced four novels: There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1928), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy, American Style (1933). Inspired by T. S. Stribling’s novel Birthright, Fauset recognized a dearth of positive depictions of African American experience in contemporary literature, and thereby set out to portray African-American life as realistically, and as positively, as possible.

  • Fauset’s first novel, There is Confusion, was praised widely upon release, especially within the pages of The Crisis. This novel traces the family histories of Joanna Mitchell and Peter Bye, who must each come to terms with the baggage of their racial histories.
  • Published in 1923, her second novel Plum Bun has warranted the most critical attention. Plum Bun centers on the theme of “passing”. The protagonist, Angela Murray, eventually reclaims her African American identity after spending much of the novel passing for white.
  • Fauset’s third novel, The Chinaberry Tree, has largely been ignored critically. Set in New Jersey, this novel explores the longing for “respectability” among the contemporary African-American middle class. The protagonist Laurentine seeks to overcome her “bad blood” through marriage to a “decent” man. Ultimately, Laurentine must redefine “respectable” as she finds her own sense of identity.
  • Fauset’s last novel Comedy, American Style, explores the destructive power of “color mania.” The protagonist’s mother Olivia ultimately brings about the downfall of the other characters due to her own internalized racism.

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