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 an artistry that transcended propaganda. She championed black scholarship and encouraged academic...
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