February 8, 2011


Racial revelations in Jean Toomer's 'Cane'

Modernist writer Jean Toomer was best known for his 1923 book "Cane," which included prose vignettes, poetry and dramatic dialogue focused on the African American experience. But, says Toomer scholar Rudolph P. Byrd, director of Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, "he didn't want to be known as a black writer."

Byrd and Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates Jr. are co-editors of a second edition of "Cane" (W. W. Norton, 2011). Included in the new edition are decades of correspondence, reviews and articles about the book, but also a discovery based on genealogical research: even though Toomer spent many years trying to pass as white, he was, in fact, African American. That finding is sure to shape the future of scholarship about "Cane" and Toomer.

Listen to Rudolph P. Byrd talk about the significance of Toomer's racial ambivalence.

File Options

  • Print Icon Print