Born to a Danish seamstress and a black West Indian cook, Nella Larsen’s first story was published in 1926. Her first novel, Quicksand (1928), concerns a young, headstrong biracial woman who seeks love, acceptance, and a sense of purpose, only to be mired in an emotional morass of her own creation. Her second novel, Passing (1929), centers on two light-skinned women, one of whom, Irene, marries a black man and lives in Harlem, while the other, Clare, marries a white man but cannot reject her black cultural ties.
Nella Larsen’s stories of young women of mixed race growing up in a prejudiced world, grappling for a sense of identity and belonging, mirrored her own life. Larsen struggled mightily for most of her life, never feeling quite at home in either the European community of her mother nor back in the United States; neither in the black world or the white at a time when the “color line” was strictly drawn.
In 1930 Larsen became the first black woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.
Her works have been the subjects of numerous academic studies, and she is now widely lauded as "not only the premier novelist of the Harlem Renaissance but also an important figure in American modernism.
“I'm not such an idiot that I don't realize that if a man calls me a nigger it's his fault the first time, but mine if he has the opportunity to do it again.” Nella Larsen, Passing
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