Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Jessie Redmon Fauset played a significant role in the artistic ferment of the 1920’s called the Harlem Renaissance, not only as a novelist and journalist but also as the literary editor of The Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in which capacity she encouraged many talented young black authors of the period.
Fauset was the seventh child of Redmon and Annie Fauset. Her father served as a pastor in the prestigious African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his moral convictions, particularly those involving race and education, strongly shaped the worldview adopted by his daughter. The Fausets also boasted a genteel lineage from among the oldest black families in Philadelphia and consciously pursued a middle-class ethic of respectability and cultural sophistication that was hampered by the economics of Redmon’s ministerial career.
Jessie’s intellectual ambitions began early as a result of these various influences. She became one of a handful of black students to attend the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and, upon finishing with honors, entered Cornell University in 1901. Fauset left Cornell in 1905, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a degree in languages and plans to become a teacher. Despite racial barriers, she became a high school French and Latin instructor in Washington, D.C. In 1919 she left this position to complete an M.A. in French at the University of Pennsylvania and to join the editorial staff of The Crisis.
Fauset’s important relationship with black scholar and political leader W. E. B. Du Bois began as early as 1903, when she was still an undergraduate. She later became involved in the work of the NAACP, which Du Bois helped to establish in 1910, and contributed regularly to The Crisis, publishing fiction, poetry, literary reviews, and journalism that expressed her pride in the richness of black culture and celebrated the international achievements of black people. When Du Bois offered her the literary editorship of the magazine, he brought her into the center of the Harlem Renaissance.
In her supervisory role on The Crisis from 1919 to 1926, Fauset was instrumental in the evolution of what was called “the New Negro Literature.” She fostered the careers of the newcomers Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countée Cullen, and Claude McKay by publishing their work and including them in her literary social circle. Fauset praised these writers for evoking the authentic flavor of black culture through...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Jessie Redmon Fauset, the youngest of seven children born to Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset, was born in South Hill, New Jersey, on April 27, 1882. She attended the public schools in Philadelphia and graduated as an honor student from the Philadelphia School for Girls. When she sought admission to Bryn Mawr College, rather than admit her, the college supported her application to Cornell University. Fauset graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell in 1904. Whether she was the first black woman to attend Cornell or to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa, both of which are often speculated, Fauset “was one of the best educated Americans of her generation.”
Denied employment in Philadelphia’s integrated schools, Fauset began teaching high school in New York in 1905. After a year there and a year in Baltimore, she moved to the M Street High School (later named Dunbar High School) in Washington, D.C., where she taught for fourteen years. In 1921, a few months after receiving her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Fauset joined the staff of The Crisis as literary editor. In 1924 she published her first novel. Fauset left The Crisis and returned to teaching in 1926. In 1929, she married a businessman, Herbert Harris, and between 1929 and 1933, she completed three other novels. When her husband died in 1958, Fauset returned to Philadelphia, where she died in 1961.
Jessie Fauset, believing that black writers could more accurately depict their race, wrote to “put the best foot of the race forward.” Writing about the people she knew—the middle class—Fauset presents images different from those of other New Negro novelists of the Harlem Renaissance.
In Fauset’s first novel, There Is Confusion, the main character, Joanna Marshall, daughter of middle-class parents, believes that African Americans “can do everything anybody else can.” Only after experiencing discrimination in her attempt to become a dancer does she realize the problems posed by race. Joanna, her boyfriend Peter Bye, and a neighbor, Maggie Ellersley, overcome the difficulties of race, family, and class distinctions; Joanna’s initial belief is affirmed by the novel’s end. The characters, and by extension all African Americans, can triumph in spite of the hardships they have endured.
In her second novel, Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral, Fauset complicates the race issue by creating characters light enough to pass for white. The protagonist, Angela Murray, also from a middle-class family, grows up observing her mother occasionally pass. In order to realize her dreams of becoming an artist, Angela passes, which has its consequences. By denying her only sister, Virginia, Angela is isolated from family....
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