Jessie Redmon Fauset

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Jessie Redmond Fauset
Jessie Redmon Fauset.jpg
Born (1882-04-27)April 27, 1882
Camden County, New Jersey
Died April 30, 1961(1961-04-30) (aged 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jessie Redmond Fauset (April 27, 1884 – April 30, 1961) was an American editor, poet, essayist, novelist, and educator.[1]

Fauset was the literary editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis. She also was the editor and co-author for the African-American children's magazine The Brownies' Book. She studied the teachings and beliefs of W.E.B Du Bois and considered him to be her mentor. Fauset was known as one of the most intelligent women novelists of the Harlem Renaissance, earning her the name "the midwife". In her lifetime she wrote four novels as well as poetry and short fiction.[2]

Life and work[edit]

Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset. Jessie's mother died when she was a child and her father remarried. Fauset came from a large family mired in poverty. She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and was its valedictorian and likely the school's first African-American graduate.[3] She wanted to study at Bryn Mawr College but they circumvented the issue of admitting a black student by finding her a scholarship for another university and so she continued her education at Cornell University. She graduated from Cornell University[4] in 1905 with a degree in classical languages and was the first black woman in the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[3] Fauset later received her master's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Following graduation Fauset became a teacher at Dunbar High School (then named as M Street High School) in Washington, DC, spending her summers in Paris studying at la Sorbonne. In 1919 Fauset left teaching and became the literary editor for the The Crisis alongside W.E.B. Du Bois until 1926. Fauset became a member of the NAACP and represented them in the Pan African Congress in 1921. After her Congress speech, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority made her an honorary member. In 1927, Fauset left The Crisis and returned to teaching, this time at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, where she may have taught a young James Baldwin.[5] She taught in New York City public schools until 1944.

Fauset married insurance broker Herbert Harris in 1929 at the age of 47. They moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where they led a quieter life.[5] Harris died in 1958. She then moved back to Philadelphia with her stepbrother. Fauset died on April 30, 1961, from heart disease.

Literary editor at The Crisis[edit]

Jessie Fauset's time with The Crisis is considered the most prolific literary period of the magazine's run. In July 1918, Fauset became a contributor to The Crisis, sending articles for the "Looking Glass" column from her home in Philadelphia. By the next July, W. E. B. Du Bois requested she move to New York to become the full-time Literary Editor. By October, she was installed in the Crisis office, where she quickly took over most organizational duties. As Literary Editor, Fauset fostered the careers of many of the most famous authors of the Harlem Renaissance, including Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Anne Spencer, George Schuyler, Arna Bontemps, and Langston Hughes. In fact, Fauset was the first person to publish Hughes. A few of his early poems appeared in The Brownies' Book, the children's magazine of The Crisis edited by Fauset. In his memoir The Big Sea, Hughes wrote, "Jessie Fauset at The Crisis, Charles Johnson at Opportunity, and Alain Locke in Washington were the people who midwifed the so-called New Negro Literature into being."[3]

Beyond nurturing the careers of other African-American modernist writers, Fauset was also a prolific contributor to both The Crisis and The Brownies' Book. During her time with The Crisis, she contributed poems and short stories, as well as a novelette, translations from the French of writings by black authors from Europe and Africa, and a multitude of editorials. She also published accounts of her extensive travels. Notably, Fauset included five essays, including "Dark Algiers the White," detailing her six-month visit to France and Algeria in 1925 and 1926 with Laura Wheeler Waring.

After eight years with Fauset as Literary Editor, conflicts between her and Du Bois began to take their toll. In February 1927, she resigned her position. She is instead listed as "Contributing Editor," though this designation remains on the masthead only one month. From 1927 to 1944, she taught French at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, while continuing to publish novels.


Between 1924 and 1933, Fauset produced four novels: There is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1928), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy, American Style (1933). Inspired by T. S. Stribling's novel Birthright, Fauset recognized a dearth of positive depictions of African American experience in contemporary literature, and thereby set out to portray African-American life as realistically, and as positively, as possible.

  • Fauset's first novel, There is Confusion, was praised widely upon release, especially within the pages of The Crisis. This novel traces the family histories of Joanna Mitchell and Peter Bye, who must each come to terms with the baggage of their racial histories.
  • Published in 1923, her second novel Plum Bun has warranted the most critical attention. Plum Bun centers on the theme of "passing". The protagonist, Angela Murray, eventually reclaims her African American identity after spending much of the novel passing for white.
  • Fauset's third novel, The Chinaberry Tree, has largely been ignored critically. Set in New Jersey, this novel explores the longing for "respectability" among the contemporary African-American middle class. The protagonist Laurentine seeks to overcome her "bad blood" through marriage to a "decent" man. Ultimately, Laurentine must redefine "respectable" as she finds her own sense of identity.
  • Fauset's last novel Comedy, American Style, explores the destructive power of "color mania"[4] The protagonist's mother Olivia ultimately brings about the downfall of the other characters due to her own internalized racism.

Selected works[edit]



  • "Rondeau." The Crisis. April 1912: 252.
  • "La Vie C'est La Vie." The Crisis. July 1922: 124.
  • "'Courage!' He Said." The Crisis. November 1929: 378

Short stories[edit]

  • "Emmy." The Crisis. December 1912: 79-87; January 1913: 134-142.
  • "My House and a Glimpse of My Life Therein." The Crisis. July 1914: 143-145.
  • "Double Trouble." The Crisis. August 1923: 155-159; September 1923: 205-209.


  • "Impressions of the Second Pan-African Congress." The Crisis. November 1921: 12-18.
  • "What Europe Thought of the Pan-African Congress." The Crisis. December 1921: 60-69.
  • "The Gift of Laughter." In Locke, Alaine. The New Negro: An Interpretation. New York: A. and C. Boni, 1925.
  • "Dark Algiers the White." The Crisis. 1925–26 (vol. 29–30): 255–258, 16–22.


  1. ^ Paul, Ruben. "Jessie Redmon Faucet". in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. Retrieved Sep 20, 2011. 
  2. ^ Gale. "Jessie Redmon Fauset" (PDF). Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Retrieved Sep 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c West, Kathryn (2004). "Fauset, Jessie Redmon". In Wintz, Cary D.; Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Routledge. 
  4. ^ a b Carolyn Wedin Sylvander, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer.
  5. ^ a b Zafar, Rafia, ed. (2011). Harlem Renaissance: Five Novels of the 1920s. Library of America. p. 850. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Laurie Champion,American Woman Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook.
  • Kevin De Ornellas, Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color (Greenwood Press, 2006), edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu.
  • Joseph J. Feeny, "Jessie Fauset of The Crisis: Novelist, Feminist, Centenarian" (1983).
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr, Nellie McKay, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (2004).
  • Abby Arthur Johnson, "Literary Midwife: Jessie Redmon Fauset and the Harlem Renaissance" (1978).
  • Carolyn Wedin Sylvander, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer.

External links[edit]