November 20, 2013
This past week I was teaching Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Passing. I’d never assigned them before, but they couldn’t have been better — for my “Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner” class.
How else to contextualize Light in August? Not to mention all those racialized moments in The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night?
I’m shocked at myself that I’d never thought of this before.
Larsen is also a great way to bring in the artists of the Harlem Renaissance: Aaron Douglas (whose “Building More Stately Mansions” appears on the cover of The Black Atlantic); Romare Bearden (inspiration to August Wilson); and, of course, Lois Maliou Jones.
Jones’s Les Fétiches was an important visual link not only to the “African” works of Picasso and Matisse but also to the Négritude authors: Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor. Her Parisian Beggar Woman, meanwhile, was painted with text supplied by Langston Hughes.
And Faulkner? It turned out that the Harlem Renaissance was of more than incidental interest to him. Between 1920 and 1925 he contributed drawings — for pay — to the Mississippian, the literary magazine at Ole Miss, heavily inspired by Aubrey Beardsley, and definitely jazz-flavored.
Not exactly passing, but close.