THE LIVES OF JEAN TOOMER: A Hunger for Wholeness by Cynthia Earl & Richard Eldridge Kerman

THE LIVES OF JEAN TOOMER: A Hunger for Wholeness

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Toomer (1894-1967), writer and spiritual teacher, is best known as the author of Cane (1923), a collection of lyrical prose and poetry and the most influential book produced during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's. But, ironically, Toomer, of mixed racial heritage, experienced only a fleeting identification with his blackness. The most complete Toomer biography yet published--and arguably the most important book on Toomer yet to appear--this is not a critical or strictly literary biography. Rather, Kerman and Eldridge use Toomer's vast literary output, most of it unpublished, as just one of many ways of understanding Toomer's life instead of using his life as a way of understanding his writing. The authors have had access to a tremendous amount of Toomer material, much of it quite personal, and have had extensive interviews and correspondence with people who knew Toomer. The result is an extremely thorough narrative covering all stages of Toomer's life, from childhood and pre-Cane days through his association with writers Waldo Frank, Gorham Munson, and Hart Crane, his advocacy of the psychological-mystical teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff, his work with the Quakers, and finally his period of semi-invalidism during the last 15 years of his life. Demonstrating--rightly--that Toomer's search for a meaningful identity--his ""hunger for wholeness""--dominated his life and writing, the book nevertheless devotes three quarters of its length to straight narrative, with little analysis of Toomer's behavior; it is--unfortunately--only in the last quarter of the biography that there is any in-depth analysis of Toomer's problems and motivations. Still, this compendious and diligent treatment remains essential reading for the continuing interpretation of Toomer's work, including Cane, for it places that book and the other writing in the larger and hitherto underexplored context of Toomer's complicated psychological/sociological matrix.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 1987
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ. Press