Happy Birthday, Jean Toomer!
Quaker Poet, Novelist, Essayist, Permanent Seeker,
Harlem Renaissance Pioneer (Cane -1923)
(26 December 1894 - 30 March 1967)
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and today’s political and racial tensions, the BlackQuaker Project celebrates the life of Quaker poet, essayist, and novelist Jean Toomer. He was a pioneerof the Harlem Renaissance and well respected literary figure. Born Nathan Pinchback Toomer, he attended segregated schools in Washington, DC, and later studied at six different higher education institutions as a permanent seeker. After leaving college without a degree, Toomer began publishing during WWI. His critically acclaimed novel, Cane was eventually released in 1923. Toomer would join the Religious Society of Friends in 1940, taking on leadership roles in both his monthly meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Toomer was drawn to Quakerism due to its emphasis on connecting with the Spirit that resides in every individual. He felt Quakers were life centered, enacting worship in their day to day experiences rather than centering it around just church and scripture. In his later years he would publish essays in Friends’ publications and serve on Quaker committees for community service and youth education.
To learn more about Jean Toomer and to read short excerpts of his works, please see Paul Kriese, “N. Jean Toomer (1894 -1967),” in Weaver, Kriese, and Angell, eds., Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights (Philadelphia: Quaker Press of Friends General Conference, 2011), 44-60.