Black History Month: “Cane”


From the publisher, Norton:

A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.

“By far the most impressive product of the Negro Renaissance, Cane ranks with Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as a measure of the Negro novelist’s highest achievement. Jean Toomer belongs to that first rank of writers who use words almost as a plastic medium, shaping new meanings from an original and highly personal style.” —Robert A. Bone, The Negro Novel in America

From the Modern American Poetry Web site:

While many critics have credited this work with ushering in the Harlem Renaissance, noting the book’s representations of African-American characters and culture, others have located it within the Lost Generation, owing to its literary experimentation, its romantic primitivism, and its critiques of postwar values. Part one of the book presents portraits of six women of the rural South, in a style reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s gallery of grosteques in Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Part two shifts to the urban North, using paysage moralisé settings in Washington, D.C., and Chicago to depict the modern world as a postwar wasteland. In Part three, “Kabnis,” the setting shifts back to the rural South and dramatizes a portrait of an artist struggling to represent the parting soul of the African-American past in art.

For more info:

Special thanks goes to Barbara Smith, author and member of the Albany Common Council, for her suggestion.


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