Rudolph Fisher

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Rudolph Fisher
Rudolph Fisher.jpg
BornRudolph John Chauncey Fisher
(1897-05-09)May 9, 1897
Washington, D.C., United States
Died(1934-12-26)December 26, 1934
New York, N.Y., United States
OccupationPhysician, radiologist, novelist, short story writer, dramatist, musician, and orator.
Alma materHoward University, Brown University, Classical High School

Rudolph John Chauncey Fisher (May 9, 1897 – December 26, 1934) was an African-American physician, radiologist, novelist, short story writer, dramatist, musician, and orator. His father was John Wesley Fisher, a clergyman, his mother was Glendora Williamson Fisher, and he had two siblings. Fisher married Jane Ryder, a school teacher from Washington, D.C. in 1925, and they had one son, Hugh, who was born in 1926 and was also nicknamed "The New Negro" as a tribute to the Harlem renaissance.

Early life[edit]

Born May 9, 1897, in Washington, D.C., Rudolph Fisher grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the youngest of three children born to Reverend John Wesley Fisher, a Baptist pastor, and Glendora Williamson Fisher.

Fisher married Jane Ryder, a public school teacher, within a year of meeting her in 1925. They had one child, a son named Hugh, born in 1926.[1]


Fisher graduated from Classical High School in 1915 with honors and further went to Brown University where he studied English and biology, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Sigma Rho, and Sigma Xi. [3] [4] During this time, he earned his Bachelor of Arts from Brown in 1919, where he delivered the valedictory address and received a Master of Arts a year later.[2]

After graduating from Brown, Fisher took part in a Manhattan-based program titled "Four Negro Commencement Speakers" where he read his Brown commencement speech, "The Emancipation of Science". At Howard Medical School, he studied Radiology.

He later attended medical school at Howard University in Washington D.C, graduating with honors in 1924. Then, he came to New York City in 1925 to take up a fellowship of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University's college, during which time he published two scientific articles of his research on treating Bacteriophage viruses with ultraviolet light.[3]

In addition to researching and writing in medical and literary fields, Fischer also pursued his love for jazz. He played the piano and wrote musical scores. Fisher's ability to use all of his talents simultaneously was evident during his college years. The summer after his college graduation, he and Paul Robeson toured along the East Coast as a band.[4]

Medical career[edit]

Fisher was successful in both the literature and medical field. During the 1920s, he published his research on the effect of ultraviolet rays on viruses in medical journals. He was a head researcher at Manhattan's International Hospital. Also, he opened his own private practice. During this time, he continued to write his novels, poetry, and articles.[5] His experience in the medical field helped him to get ideas for his writing on mystery, for it helped to illustrate human body.[6] After his fellowship ended, he had a private practice on Long Island. In 1927, Fisher became superintendent of the International Hospital in Harlem, and set up his private practice as a radiologist, with an X-ray laboratory of his own, in New York.[3]

Literary career[edit]

Fisher started his professional writing career by contributing to his articles and to journals, such as "National Association for the Advanced of Colored People's (NAACP)"[7] and his first contribution to magazines "The Crisis".[8]Fisher's first novel "Walls of Jericho" came out in 1928. He was inspired by a friend's challenge to write this novel treating both the upper and lower classes of black Harlem equally. This novel presents a vision that African American men and women can both get ahead in life if they come together and form a bond against centuries of oppression. He then went on in 1932 to write "The Conjure Man Dies", the first novel with a black detective as well as the first detective novel with only black characters. This novel was also set in Harlem.[19] His novel was publicized by Covici-Friede making him the second African American to write a detective novel in the United States. He also wrote two short stories, the first of the two "City of Refuge", appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of February 1925, and the second, "Vestiges" both appeared in Alain Locke's anthology. These two short stories accurately depicted life and events during the Harlem Renaissance. Fisher's last published work, "Miss Cynthie" appeared in story magazine in 1933. It was a short story about a Southern migrant grandmother, Miss Cynthie. She arrived in Harlem to meet her successful grandson. She was a hard-working and religious woman who had raised her grandson in the South. She expected him to have established himself as a member of the black professional society. What she did not know was that his success emerged from being an entertainer in a theater which she viewed to be a sinful place. Although she is against what he does, she comes to realize that he has developed into an honest young man. Other short stories written by Rudolph Fisher are, High Yaller in 1926, Blades of Steel in 1927, Ringtail, The South still lingers on, Fire by night, The promise land The Caucasian storms Harlem in 1927 and Common meter in 1930.[20]

As Oliver Henry states, "Fisher writes about black people in a manner which expresses their kinship with other peoples. He underscores and highlights the fundamental human condition of black Americans. ... He captures the historically induced unique qualities of black people; but, and perhaps even more importantly, he writes of them basically as people."[21]

Participation in Pan-Africanism[edit]

Throughout his career, Fisher had an interest in Pan-Africanism, which is a movement that aims to encourage and strengthen unity of all African-Americans. It started in 1900.[5]

Rudolph Fisher supported Pan-African congress participants promoted colonized Africans to elect their own governments in order to gain of political power as a necessary prerequisite for complete social, economic and political emancipation.[6][7]

Unlike Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and W.E. B. DuBois who tried to put the stereotypes of black exoticism in Pan-African, Rudolph Fisher worked on articulating the broader struggle for black labor privilege, and women's empowerment.[8]

Principal works[edit]

Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen adapted The Conjure Man Dies for the stage two years after Fisher's death. The Federal Theatre Project production starring Dooley Wilson (center) and Lionel Monagas (left) ran March–April 1936 at the Lafayette Theatre, Harlem.

"The City of Refuge" (1925)[edit]

Rudolph Fisher's story "The City of Refuge" is centered around a Southern black man named King Solomon Gillis and his migration to Harlem, New York from North Carolina to escape lynching. Gillis is amazed by the opportunity and freedom he sees when he first arrives in Harlem. Gillis meets a man named Uggam who helps him settle into Harlem and gets him a "job". Fisher presents the idea of a migrant's adjustment to the city during "Negro Harlem" and the race relations along the way. The story concludes with Gillis being duped by Uggam into selling "medicine" (drugs) for him and gets ratted on, leading him to be arrested.[9]

An interpretation of the themes explored in this short story is similar to what is found in Alain Locke's anthology, The New Negro: transformation and self-expression. In comparison, Gillis transitions by the end of the story because when he first arrives in Harlem, "city of refuge", Gillis sees Harlem as a place of hope and freedom. He wanted to have the chance to achieve liberation and be set free from social and political restrictions from the place he originally came from. Instead, Gillis' experience with Harlem mirrors the South during the time as the beliefs of race and status fill the assumptions that the people of the city contain.

"The City of Refuge" and another short story, "Vestiges", were included in Alain Locke's anthology, The New Negro: An Interpretation.In 1991, a collection of Fisher's short fiction, City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher, was published by the University of Missouri Press.

"High Yaller" (1925)[edit]

Story about lightskin woman facing difficulties of cross-identity.

The Walls of Jericho (1928)[edit]

The Walls of Jericho, Fisher's first novel, is about black life in Harlem.

The Conjure Man Dies (1932)[edit]

The Conjure-Man Dies is Fisher's last novel, about Harlem in 1930s. This novel is the most slightly cared of texts. The main character, "N. Frimbo", a mystical psychist and an old African King. He is discovered dead at his conjure table one evening. Perry Dart, a detective of the Harlem police department, and Dr. John Archer, a physician start to investigate the mysterious murder. The plot gets more complex when Frimbo's dead body is gone and comes back alive as Frimbo. Perry Dart and Dr. John keep searching for the murder suspect.

"Miss Cynthie" (1933)[edit]

"Miss Cynthie" is a short story, published in 1933 in Story Magazine. In the story, Miss Cynthie, arrives in New York city from Waxhaw, South Carolina. She has come to Harlem to meet her proudful grandson, Dave Tappen, whom she raised after his mother's death. Miss Cynthie thought that her grandson was successful, so she expected him to be a doctor, a dentist, or an undertaker. However, her grandson has chosen a career in theater. As a religious old woman, she is heartbroken. One day, Dave saw Miss Cynthie singing in the other room. Dave decides to lead her to a theater. Dave left Cynthie on a stage and she didn't know he left. Dave appears on the stage and sings a song that Cynthie taught to her when he was a child. Miss Cynthie realizes how much her grandson adores her and remembers their past. This story reflects issues of the Great Migration, music and theater of Harlem, religion, and the shift from the "old" to the new "youth" in the Harlem Renaissance.


Unless noted, Rudolph Fisher's bibliography is drawn from African American Authors, 1745–1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Emmanuel Sampath Nelson.[3]:167–168

Short stories[edit]

  • "The City of Refuge". The Atlantic Monthly, February 1925.
  • "The South Lingers On". Survey Graphic, March 1925.
  • "Vestige". The New Negro: An Interpretation, 1925.
  • "Ringtail". The Atlantic Monthly, May 1925.
  • "High Yaller". The Crisis, October 1925.
  • "The Promised Land". The Atlantic Monthly, January 1927.
  • "The Backslider". McClure's, August 1927.
  • "Blades of Steel". The Atlantic Monthly, August 1927.
  • "Fire by Night". McClure's , December 1927.
  • "Common Meter". Baltimore Afro-American, February 1930.
  • "Dust". Opportunity, February 1931.
  • "Ezkiel". Junior Red Cross News, March 1932.
  • "Ezkiel Learns". Junior Red Cross News, February 1933.
  • "Guardian of the Law". Opportunity, March 1933.
  • "Miss Cynthie". Story, June 1933.
  • "John Archer's Nose". Metropolitan Magazine, January 1935.


  • The Wall of Jericho (1928)
  • The Conjure Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem (1932)


  • "Action of Ultraviolet Light upon Bacteriophage and Filterable Viruses". Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine 23. (1926).
  • "The Caucasian Storms Harlem". The American Mercury 11 (1927).
  • "The Resistance of Different Concentrations of a Bacteriophage of Ultraviolet Rays". Journal of Infectious Diseases 40 (1927).


  • 1919: Brown Beta Kappa Key
  • 1919: Brown University commencement speaker
  • 1924: Honors from Howard Medical School
  • 1925: The Crisis Spingarn Prize
  • 1927: Brown University Class Day Orator[2]


Fisher died in 1934 at the age of 37 from abdominal cancer likely caused by his own x-ray experimentation. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.[10]


The rhythm persisted, the unfaltering common meter of blues, but the blueness itself, the sorrow, the despair, began to give way to hope.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chander, Harish (2000). "Rudolph Fisher". African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook: 161.
  2. ^ a b "Fisher, Rudolph 1897–1934". Encyclopedia of World Biography.
  3. ^ a b c Nelson, Emmanuel Sampath, ed. (2000). African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313309106.
  4. ^ M. P. Freund, David. Biographical Supplement and Index. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 41. ISBN 9780195102581.
  5. ^ Sherwood, Marika (2012). "Introduction". Origins of Pan-Africanism: 7.
  6. ^ "The Harlem Renaissance & Jazz" (PDF). Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  7. ^ "The Harlem Renaissance". Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  8. ^ Kalaidjian, Walter B. (1993). American Culture Between the Wars: Revisionary Modernism & Postmodern Critique. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0231082797.
  9. ^ Locke, Alain (1999). The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Touchstone.
  10. ^ Hutchinson, George. "Rudolph Fisher: American writer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  11. ^ Fisher, Rudolph (2008). The City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher. University of Missouri Press. p. 183. Retrieved 22 January 2020.