Jean Toomer was an African American poet and novelist commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though he actively resisted the association, and modernism.
Nathan Pinchback Toomer, who adopted the name Jean Toomer early in his literary career, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1894. His father Nathan Toomer (1839-1906) was a mixed-race freedman, born into slavery in 1839 in Chatham County, North Carolina. He, his mother Kit and siblings were sold to John Toomer in Houston County; after his death, they were bought in 1859 from the estate by John’s brother Col. Henry Toomer.
Between 1914 and 1917, Toomer attended six institutions of higher education (the University of Wisconsin, the Massachusetts College of Agriculture, the American College of Physical Training in Chicago, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the City College of New York) studying agriculture, fitness, biology, sociology, and history, but he never completed a degree.
n 1923, Toomer published the High Modernist novel Cane, in which he used a variety of forms and material inspired by his time in Georgia. It was also an “analysis of class and caste”, with “secrecy and miscegenation as major themes of the first section.” His last literary work published during his lifetime was Blue Meridian, a long poem extolling “the potential of the American race”. He stopped writing for publication after 1950.