Most of the work of Jean Toomer (TEW-muhr) was in genres other than poetry. His one published volume of creative writing, Cane (1923), contains only fifteen poems, mostly short, and fourteen pieces that appear to be in prose. However, they are all informed with the poet’s rather than the novelist’s sensibility, and some of them are poems in all but line breaks, while all of them use assorted poetic devices either throughout or sporadically.
Toomer published several pieces of fiction after Cane, generally quite experimental inasmuch as they lacked plot, often included philosophical meditations, and indeed often worked more like poetry, with impressionistic scenes and descriptions and an emphasis on developing a theme through juxtaposition of sections rather than an overall sequence of action. Among these are “Winter on Earth” (The Second American Caravan, 1929), “Mr. Costyve Duditch” (The Dial, 1928), and “York Beach” (New American Caravan, 1929). The first two were collected in the posthumous volume The Wayward and the Seeking (1980), edited by Darwin T. Turner, along with a previously unpublished story from 1930, “Withered Skin of Berries,” which is more in the style of Cane, though much longer than most of the pieces in that book.
Toomer published one short, fragmentary play during his lifetime, “Balo,” in Alain Locke’s collection Plays of Negro Life (1927), and two of several other plays which he wrote in The Wayward and the Seeking.
Nonfiction predominates in Toomer’s work, indicating his concerns with philosophical and spiritual goals, as in “Race Problems and Modern Society” (1929), “The Flavor of Man” (1949), and Essentials: Definitions and Aphorisms (privately printed in 1931, some of its aphorisms having been printed earlier in The Dial and Crisis, with many appearing much later in The Wayward and the Seeking). These aphorisms are occasionally poetic and certainly worthy of contemplation, but they might be stronger if incorporated into actual poems. Portions of several versions of Toomer’s autobiography appear in The Wayward and the Seeking. The rest of his many unpublished works, including many poems, remain in the Toomer Collection of the Fisk University Library.