Jean Toomer was an American poet and novelist and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance. His first book Cane is considered by many as his most significant.
Life and Career
Toomer was born Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer in Washington, D.C. His father was a prosperous farmer, originally born into slavery in Hancock County, Georgia. Nina Pinchback was also of mixed ethnic descent. Her father was Louisiana Governor P. B. S. Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a U.S. state. (Both of Toomer's maternal grandparents had white fathers. Pinchback's father was a planter and his mother was a mulatto slave who was freed before his birth. After Reconstruction, the Pinchbacks had moved to Washington, DC, where they became part of the "mulatto elite".
Toomer's father (also called Nathan Toomer) abandoned the family when his son was an infant, and the boy and his mother lived with her parents. As a child in Washington, Toomer attended all-black schools. When his mother remarried and they moved to suburban New Rochelle, New York, he attended an all-white school. After his mother's death, Toomer returned to Washington to live with his grandparents Pinchback. He graduated from the M Street School, an academic black high school. By his early adult years, Toomer resisted racial classifications and wanted to be identified only as an American.
Between 1914 and 1917 Toomer attended six institutions of higher education (the University of Wisconsin, the Massachusetts College of Agriculture, the American College of Physical Training in Chicago, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the City College of New York) studying agriculture, fitness, biology, sociology, and history, but he never completed a degree. His wide readings among prominent contemporary poets and writers, and the lectures he attended during his college years, shaped the direction of his writing.
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