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Jessie Redmon Fauset

1882–1961

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County, New Jersey. She grew up in Philadelphia and attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She received a scholarship to study at Cornell University, where she was likely the first black female student, and she graduated with a BA in classical languages in 1905. After college, she worked as a teacher in Baltimore and Washington, D. C.

In 1912, Fauset began to write for the NAACP’s official magazine, The Crisis, which was cofounded and edited by W. E. B. Du Bois. After several years contributing poems, essays, and reviews to The Crisis, Fauset became the journal’s literary editor in 1919, moving to New York City for the position.

In her role as literary editor, Fauset introduced then-unknown writers, including Countee CullenLangston HughesClaude McKay, and Anne Spencer, to a national audience. In his memoir The Big Sea, Langston Hughes writes, “Jessie Fauset at The Crisis, Charles Johnson at Opportunity, and Alain Locke in Washington were the three people who midwifed the so-called New Negro literature into being. Kind and critical—but not too critical for the young—they nursed us along until our books were born.”

Along with her poetry and short fiction in The Crisis, Fauset published several novels known for their portrayal of middle-class African American life, including There Is Confusion (Boni and Liveright, 1924) and Plum Bun (Matthews & Marrot, 1928). She also edited The Brownies’ Book, a periodical for African American children, from 1920 to 1921.

Fauset left The Crisis in 1926 to teach French at a high school in the Bronx. She married Herbert Harris, a businessman, in 1929, and they lived together in New Jersey until his death in 1958. Fauset then returned to Philadelphia, where she lived until her death on April 30, 1961.


Selected Prose

Comedy, American Style (Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1933)
The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life (Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1931)
Plum Bun (Matthews & Marrot, 1928)
There Is Confusion (Boni and Liveright, 1924)

Jessie Redmon Fauset

By This Poet

4

Dead Fires

If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
     Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
     Than this gray calm!

Is this pain's surcease? Better far the ache,
     The long-drawn dreary day, the night's white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
     Than passion's death!

Rondeau

When April's here and meadows wide 
Once more with spring's sweet growths are pied 
    I close each book, drop each pursuit, 
    And past the brook, no longer mute, 
I joyous roam the countryside.

Look, here the violets shy abide 
And there the mating robins hide—
    How keen my sense, how acute, 
      When April's here!

And list! down where the shimmering tide 
Hard by that farthest hill doth glide, 
    Rise faint strains from shepherd's flute, 
    Pan's pipes and Berecyntian lute. 
Each sight, each sound fresh joys provide 
      When April's here. 

Oriflamme

“I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’” 
—Sojourner Truth.
 
 
I think I see her sitting bowed and black,	
   Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,	
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet	
   Still looking at the stars.	
 
Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,	       
   Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,	
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,	
   Still visioning the stars!

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