Rudolph Fisher Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born to the clergyman John Wesley Fisher and Glendora Williamson Fisher in Washington, D.C., Rudolph John Chauncey Fisher was raised in New York and Providence, Rhode Island. He began a dual career as a physician and fiction writer during the Harlem Renaissance. Fisher was an honors student at Classical High School in Providence; he graduated in 1915. He attended Brown University and majored in English, later changing to biology and ultimately graduating with honors in that field. Fisher, who received awards for public speaking during his collegiate years, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned an M.A. degree at Brown.

Between 1920 and 1924 Fisher pursued medical studies at Howard University Medical School. The year of his graduation he married Jane Ryder, a schoolteacher in Washington, D.C. In 1925 he moved to New York to further his medical career as a fellow at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. From 1925 to 1927, the peak of the Harlem Renaissance, Fisher published the bulk of his short fiction. “The City of Refuge” and “Ringtail” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, “The South Lingers On” in Survey Graphic, and “High Yaller” in The Crisis. Fisher’s stories address the dilemmas and ironies of Harlem life as well as the continuities and disjunctures of the black southern folk tradition.

Fisher uses the ironic twist as the primary technique for ending his stories. “City of Refuge” concerns a recent arrival to Harlem who is tricked by a hustler into selling narcotics. “The South Lingers On,” a story in five parts, uses vernacular and interrelated segments to show the retention of folk characteristics. The five sections, each ending ironically, suggest a variety of themes explored in other works by the author: religious affiliation, urban employment, traditional values, and...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Rudolph Fisher was educated in the arts and sciences. His first short story, “The City of Refuge,” was published while Fisher was in medical school, and throughout his life he maintained careers as a doctor and as a writer of fiction and medical research.

For all his medical degrees, Fisher wanted to be known as a writer who could interpret Harlem life. Little seemed to have escaped his vision and analysis. He saw Harlem as a vast canvas upon which he painted characters from several different levels of life. There were the “rats,” a Harlem term for the working class; the “dickties,” which was Harlemese for upper-class aspirants to white values; Pullman porters; gangsters; barbers; pool hall owners; doctors; lawyers; misguided white liberals; and white celebrants and aspirants to Harlem culture. In the novel The Walls of Jericho, Fisher brings all of the economic, racial, and political strata of Harlem together at the annual costume ball. The dickties and the rats mingle with whites who are in search of what they think is black bohemia. The dance hall setting that Fisher enlivens in The Walls of Jericho was modeled after the Harlem cabarets and nightclubs he frequented.

Fisher achieved remarkable balance between the medical and artistic worlds. His short stories were published in national magazines in which other Harlem Renaissance writers could not publish. The Walls of Jericho was well received. The...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bell, Bernard W. The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. Offers a biographical sketch and a concise interpretation of Fisher’s novels.

Brown, Sterling A. The Negro in American Fiction. 1937. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Gives a brief discussion of Fisher’s works.

Davis, Arthur P. From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974. Provides biographical material and a cogent discussion of Fisher’s writings.

De Jongh, James. Vicious Modernism: Black Harlem and the Literary Imagination. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Gayle, Addison, Jr. The Way of the New World: The Black Novel in America. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1975. Considers Fisher’s novels in relation to the Harlem Renaissance.

Gloster, Hugh M. Negro Voices in American Fiction. 1948. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1976. Gives a brief discussion of Fisher’s works.

Kramer, Victor, ed. The Harlem Renaissance Re-examined. New York: AMS Press, 1987.

Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

McCluskey, John, Jr., ed. The City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987. Categorizes and briefly analyzes Fisher’s stories and novels in the introduction by McCluskey.

McGruder, Kevin. “Jane Ryder Fisher.” Black Scholar 23 (Summer, 1993). Gives biographical background on Fisher’s wife.

Perry, Margaret. Silence to the Drums: A Survey of the Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976. Identifies Fisher as a major novelist and accomplished craftsman of the short story.

Tignor, Eleanor Q. “Rudolph Fisher: Harlem Novelist.” Langston Hughes Review 1 (Fall, 1982). Offers a close reading of the novels.