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Nella Larsen (1891–1964)

Author of Passing

Includes the names: Nella Larson, Nella Larsen

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Nella Larsen was associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She also worked as a librarian and a nurse in New York City, pursuing nursing after her brief, successful writing career until her death in 1964. Larsen's mother was Danish, and her father was West Indian; she used her experience as the child of middle-class parents in a mixed marriage to create characters in two novels who are stranded, caught between two cultures and unable to feel wholly at home in either. In each of Larsen's novels, the heroine suffers suffocating constrictions of her identity in both African American and white European culture. These crises in both Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) are further complicated by the heroine's quest for sexual as well as social identity, and both novels end without hopeful resolution. Both contain autobiographical elements, but Quicksand, the more successful, reproduced in fictional form many of the circumstances of Larsen's own early life. Although her work had been out of print for many years, she has recently been rediscovered. (Bowker Author Biography)
— biography from Passing
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Short biography
Nella Larsen was born in Chicago to a black father and a white Danish emigrant mother. Her father died when she was young and her mother remarried and had another daughter. Most of the rest of her early life is unknown. She trained as a nurse and as a librarian, and married Elmer Imes, a physicist then living in New York City. She became a celebrated novelist and writer of the Harlem Renaissance, beginning with her 1928 novel, Quicksand. It was followed by Passing (1929). The couple were members of a circle of professionals, intellectuals, and artists that included Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois. Nella Larsen won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1930, intending to write more novels, but never did. By 1938, she and her husband were divorced and she was no longer in touch with her friends or her publishers. She took nursing jobs beginning in 1944 and lived a solitary life for the next 20 years until her death.
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