Jessie Redmon Fauset: Harlem Renaissance Editor and Writer

Jesse Redmon Fauset. Public Domain

Overview

Jessie Redmon Fauset was a key player in the Harlem Renaissance period. Like W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, Fauset worked diligently to promote the work of writers during this significant literary and artistic movement. Historian David Levering Lewis notes that Fauset's work as a key player of the Harlem Renaissance was "probably unequaled" and he argues that "there is no telling what she would have done had she been a man, given her first-rate mind and formidable efficiency at any task."

Early Life

Fauset was born in Fredericksville, NJ in 1882. Her father, Reverend Redmon Fauset was a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. When Fauset was still young, her family moved to Philadelphia. Fauset attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls where she was the only African-American girl in the school. After graduating, Fauset attended Cornell University, studied classical languages and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Teaching and Writing Career

While a student at Cornell University, Fauset met Du Bois, who quickly became her mentor, helping her a teaching position at Fisk University in Tennessee for the summer. Upon graduating from Cornell, Fauset accepted a teaching position in Baltimore's Douglass High School. In 1906, Fauset took a teaching position at M Street High School in Washington D.C where she taught French and Latin.

While teaching at M Street High School, Fauset became very aware of the problems associated with living in a segregated city and became involved in a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Also, Du Bois encouraged Fauset to begin writing for The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP.  For the next several years, Fauset published a variety of writing. Most significantly, Fauset published the short story "Emmy;" essays such as "Tracing Shadows"; columns including "What to Read," an annotation of texts related to issues concerning race; and a poem entitled "Rondeau."

During a teaching sabbatical in 1918, Fauset completed her master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania in Romance Languages. She also decided to make a career change and became a columnist for The Crisis.  One year later Fauset assumed the role as literary editor of the publication.

Literary Editor and Novelist

As literary editor of The Crisis, Fauset became an integral player in the budding Harlem Renaissance movement. By publishing the works of writers such as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, Countee Cullen and Georgia Douglass, Fauset was able to promote the work of writers whose works might not have been published otherwise. 

Fauset used her ability to speak French fluently to expand the circulation of The Crisis internationally. She penned book reviews and translated the works of African and Caribbean writers which familiarized African-American readers with scribes throughout the African Diaspora. While editing the news publication, Fauset continued to work as a journalist and traveled throughout Europe and Africa. Most notably, Fauset documented her experiences as a reporter at the Second Pan-African Conference in Paris and the national convention of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1922.

Fauset also served as the managing editor of The Brownie's Book, a publication for children, also published by the NAACP. The mission of the journal was "designed for all children but especially for ours." Although the publication was only in circulation for 24 issues, the magazine profiled the achievements African-American youngsters as well as juvenile literature. Poets such as Georgia Douglas Johnson and Effie Lee Newsome published in its pages. Others such as Nella Larsen launched their writing careers through Brownie's Book.

In addition to her work as an editor, Fauset published several novels dealing with issues that upper-class African-Americans faced in society. Her first novel, There is Confusion was released in 1924. Her second novel, Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral followed an African-American female protagonist who makes the decision to pass for white.

The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life was published in 1931 and underscored the hardships of being the child of an interracial couple. Her final novel, Comedy: American Style was published in 1933--the protagonist was an African-American mother who favors her lighter off-spring.

Fauset resigned from her position as editor of The Crisis in 1927 and returned to teaching. She taught at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx until her retirement in 1944.

Death

Fauset died on April 30, 1961, in Philadelphia.