Nella Larsen (1891–1964) is recognized as one of the most influential, and certainly one of the most enigmatic, writers of the Harlem Renaissance. With the instant success of her two novels, Quicksand(1928) and Passing (1929), she became a bright light in New York’s literary firmament. But her meteoric rise was followed by a surprising fall: In 1930 she was accused of plagiarizing a short story, and soon thereafter she disappeared from both the literary and African American worlds of New York. She lived the rest of her life—more than three decades—out of the public eye, working primarily as a nurse. In a remarkable achievement, Thadious Davis has penetrated the fog of mystery that has surrounded Larsen to present a detailed and fascinating account of the life and work of this gifted, determined, yet vulnerable artist. Davis deftly situates the writer within the broader politics and aesthetics of the Harlem Renaissance and analyzes her life and work in terms of the current literature on race and gender.
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